January 2007 Archives

Walnut Rocker

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Sometimes Christmas brings with it more surprises than I expect. Not only did we have weather here in Chicago that was practically tropical, guess what my Dad brought for me this Christmas?

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Walnut Rocking Chair, Front Facing

This chair is truly a work of art. It's made almost completely out of walnut (a wood that works well in my house) with some light wood accents. During the early summer, Dad and I went to a lumber yard that specializes in beautiful wood and we selected most of the boards he would use. He also went and found some additional walnut so that the seat of the rocker could be more dramatic.

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Walnut Rocking Chair, Side Facing

The side profile shows off some the detail work on the runners and how the back slats curve to provide the perfect back support. Dad's rocking chairs are sized to match the person who will be using them. In this case, John is lucky that when it comes to leg length, he and I are not too far apart (even though he's about 6" taller than I am).

If you'd like to see a few more details of the chair, just click on one of the thumbnails below for some closeups.

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Rocking Chair Detail Thumbnails -- Click to Enlarge

I think it's so amazing what my dad can do with his tools. The seat on the chair is essentially hand carved using an orbital sander. All the joins are smoothed and shaped mostly by hand. It is entirely fair to say that dad sculpted much of this chair out of wood. I think the result is extraordinary. This chair has definitely become one of my most treasured possessions and will definitely have a special place in my heart and my home.

Clearly a chair this lovely is going to require a complementary handknit afghan, don't you think? I've been thinking that it might be time to get out my AbFab kit this winter. What would be better than knitting and rocking?

Boyfriend Bobbins

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First off, my dad would like to say how much he enjoyed reading all the comments about his rocking chair. I think it pretty much made his day. I know they made mine. And the chair has a long and cherished life ahead of it. And there will be a few more stories to tell about it when the time is right.

In the meantime, I have more spinning to show for some of my blogging break.

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Two Bobbins of "Boyfriend"

This is the entire 8 ounces of Crown Mountain Farms Superwash Merino in "My Boyfriend's Back". I divided it in half and then spun each half onto a bobbin. I love these capacious WW bobbins -- 4 ounces of single on each and still plenty of room for more! So nice for spinning up something for a big project. From what I can tell, the singles are pretty close to what I spun when I spun up the "Hang on Sloopy" so I'm anticipating similar grist yarn and yardage after I do the plying.

As with the Sloopy, this stuff was beautifully dyed and really a treat to spin. The colorway was inspired by a request I made for a more man-friendly dark red yarn. Teyani did a lovely job using several depths of shade of what I think is one red dye so that there are areas that are almost black. These dark areas really help to set off the brigher red areas, but at the same time, tone everything down and give it a more masculine quality. John took one look at these bobbins, nodded, and said "if it keeps looking like that, I could probably wear it".

Definitely an edorsement to go to the next stage with.

P.S. If you want to see what Boyfriend looks like when it's been plied and knit into socks, you can check out this recent post on Teyani's blog. Clearly John has good things to look forward to!

Finished Boyfriend

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A Bowl of Finished "Boyfriend"

Once I've got all my singles prepared, it's hard to keep me from wanting to sit down and ply them up. This was particularly true with this batch of superwash merino in "My Boyfriend's Back" from Crown Mountain Farms. I really wanted to make John a special pair of socks, and I really wanted the yarn to be ready by Christmas. So I fired up my wheel on the 23rd of December and armed with a bunch of podcasts, I plied up all 8 ounces. I could tell as I was plying that this yarn was going to be perfect for John. It had nice long stretches of color and there weren't too many bright patches or patches that might inadvertantly be misconstrued as pink. Most of it was dark and a bit moody and what I thought was just perfect for a pair of socks for John.

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"Boyfriend" 2 ply Before Finishing
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"Boyfriend" 2 Ply After Finishing

These before and after finishing shots are to help visualize how much a yarn can change from right after you finish plying it, to after it has a nice bath and a chance to dry. While in the top photo the yarn has been stretched over the niddy noddy a little bit, it still has that flat quality to it, even when you take it off the niddy. After a warm water bath with a bit of Eucalan, the yarn really comes to life. It poofs and contracts and gets some of the loft that you expect from a merino yarn. I let my yarn hang to dry, but I don't weight it at all. After finishing, it is also twist neutral (i.e. balanced).

One thing that did occur when I gave this yarn a bath was that I had a lot of red dye exhaust. Even after several rinses in cold water, I never got the water to run clear or even close to clear. I know that red dyes have a tendency to do this, and, as the wise Claudia has said on her blog, this is just the price we have to pay sometimes for beautiful vivid reds. However, I emailed Teyani to find out what she knew and to let her know about my experience. Of course, Teyani recommends sticking with a cool water bath, but she also told me that what's in your water may have an impact on color bleeding. Apparently, with her water, which is not city treated water and has no chlorine or fluoride added, she sees a little dye exhaust, but after a rinse it's pretty much stable. However, with customers that live in places with treated water, they often see what I saw when the dyes used were vivid reds or blues. Interesting, eh? So if you're an urban spinner of hand-dyed rovings, you may want to consider cooler finishing baths when working with intense colors, and you probably need to expect that you'll always get a bit of bleeding from the yarn, so you really want to make sure you wash whatever you make with the final yarn with like colors.

At any rate, I'm extremely happy with the finished product and it received an additional endorsement from the man who will be the recipient of the socks. Now all I need to do is finish up a few of my other projects so I can cast on for his Christmas socks! (Good thing I made sure that there was an XBOX360 under the tree for him as his big Christmas present, eh?)

P.S. to Rachel... "grist" is essentially a measurement of the number of yards of yarn per unit weight. In the US this is often measured as yards per pound and can be used like "wraps per inch" as a general means of comparing yarns or determining if one yarn can be easily substituted for another.

A Pair of Sloopy Socks

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'Sloopy' Socks Brighten Up Chicago Saturday Afternoon

So here they are! My first pair of socks from my own handspun sock yarn. I know that by now almost everyone knows the origin of the fiber and the yarn, but for the sake of a complete record for my archive, I will mention that I spun this 2-ply sock yarn from some "Hang on Sloopy" hand-dyed superwash merino roving that I purchased from Crown Mountain Farms. The socks were knit up on US Size 1 (2.25 mm) bamboo double pointed needles. The gauge is about 7 st/inch and I cast on 56 stitches for these socks. These are pretty straight forward socks -- with so much striping, I figured I'd let the yarn speak for itself -- K2P2 ribbing at the top, straight stockinette in the leg (to 7" total) and instep, a short row heel and my standard 4 point decrease toe. Both heel and toe were decreased down to 10 stitches. For me, the fit is just about perfect.

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Sloopy Sock Striping Sequence

The striping, as you can see, is beautiful and completely irregular. I must admit a preference for the wider stripes in the sock on the left, and it's clear that the first half of this skein was a bit darker than the second half. This has to do with how the roving is dyed. At the time, I didn't realize that Teyani essentially divides each roving into thirds, with each third getting progressively darker and having less white areas. This skein contained the lighter third and part of the mid-dark third -- I think it's relatively easy to see how and where those darker colors played out.

I've spent all day wearing my first pair of handspun handknit socks. They're the kind of socks that warm my heart and my feet. For me, there's not much better than watching my handspun yarn become part of the garment I wanted it to become.

Yarn Finishing

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After talking about spinning up John's "Boyfriend" sock yarn, a couple of folks asked me how I "finish" my yarn. Finishing involves all the things done to the yarn after it's plied. My finishing regimen is relatively simple and has been derived from information from other spinners and bloggers. But it works for me. Rather than just typing out my "recipe" I thought I would illustrate the process with some pictures. In this case, I'm working with some "Sock Hop" sock yarn from Crown Mountain Farms. Since I'm planning to make knee socks fromt his and my Sloopy remnants, I wanted to make sure there were no differences in how my yarn and the CMF yarn was processed following spinning. And really, this process can be used for any commercial yarn when you aren't so sure about how it's been treated or handled.

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Step 1: Wind Up Your Yarn

If your yarn is already in a skein, then you can skip this step. Otherwise, I niddy noddy or a reel are handy tools for converting a ball into a more manageable skein.

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Step 2: Preparing for Yarn Bondage

Tangled yarn more or less sucks. I cut 4 ties to bind around the yarn in four places (you might choose more if your yarn is particularly slippery). In general, I prefer to make my ties out of yarn that is unlikely to bleed color, but the content of the ties doesn't reall matter. In this case I used white Plymouth Galway, but I've used other things as well.

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Step 3: Tie Your Yarn Up

I use figure 8 ties in four places that are relatively evenly distributed across the hank to prevent tangles. I try to avoid tying things up too tightly so that I don't have an area where the yarn is compressed or limited by the ties. I also always do this while my yarn is on the niddy noddy. I think it's just easier that way.

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Step 4: Give Your Yarn A Bath

Generally, I do my soak in warm water. I have never measured my preferred temperature, but it shouldn't be uncomfortable to put your hand in, and except in special circumstances I never use cold water (note: this is just me... your mileage may vary and you should always take your fiber and how it has been dyed into consideration when you pick water temperatures... if in doubt, cooler is better). Just a pleasant warm bath. I add a little Eucalan for aromaticity and to help clean the yarn if it needs it. I also think Eucalan and other no-rinse wool-washes make life a lot easier since you don't have to spend a lot of time rinsing. And then I take the yarn off the niddy noddy and submerge it in the bath. I let it soak for 20-30 minutes at least so that it can relax in the warm sudsy water.

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Step 5: Put Your Yarn Under Pressure

After draining off the water, I press the yarn against the side of the sink to help remove as much water as I can. Depending on the fiber content of your yarn, you can be more or less aggressive about this. Since this is superwash, I could pick it up and wring it and agitate it without worrying about felting, but other yarns require more care. Always err on the side of being gentle if you think felting could be an issue. The idea is just to make the drying process easier and shorter by getting out as much water as you can here.

If a lot of color has bled out of the yarn during the soak, I will rinse several times in cool water until the color exhaust subsides, but otherwise I don't do any rinsing at all.

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Step 6: Towel Your Yarn Off

Next, I place the yarn on a nice thirsty cotton towel (cotton likes water more than wool does, so it's easy to get the yarn to share with the towel) and then I roll the yarn in the towel and compress the roll to squeeze as much water out of the yarn as I can. This is clearly an optional step, but I think it helps to speed up the drying process. If your yarn likes to bleed color, you might want to have a couple of ratty old towels dedicated to just this process, rather than using your good towels. Also, you probably want to stay away from towels with a smooth chenille-like finish, they don't absorb as well as the regular terry finish ones.

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Step 7: Give Your Yarn A Whack

This is an optional step. Some spinners do it, some don't bother. I do it if I remember and if my yarn isn't likely to release dye onto my white counter top. I think the idea of whacking your yarn against a surface is to help even out the twist. If I whack my yarn, I do it two or three times before shifting to another part of the hank for my grip.

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Step 8: Hang Up Your Yarn

The last step is to just let the yarn alone to dry. To do this, I hang it over a hanger and just let it hang loose without any weighting other than it's own natural weight. Usually I hang it over a place that can get wet and can be cleaned easily if there's some residual dye leakage, like a tub. I also like to have a place that is relatively warm and/or gets good airflow to help speed the drying process. I figure faster drying is good for two reasons 1) less chance of yarn mildew (yuck!) and 2) I get to enjoy the finished yarn sooner.

So that's it! At least for me. I think this process varies a lot from spinner to spinner. Some people will never choose warm water. Some folks like to use dish detergent or shampoo as their cleaning agent. Some whack some don't. Some swear that hanging a yarn to dry instead of lying it flat may make it harder to detect an unbalanced yarn because the natural weight of the yarn holds down the twist. There's definitely more than one way to finish a yarn.

A Hand Dyed UK Sock Yarn Sampler

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A long time ago -- almost 4 years ago! -- Emma and I established our own little yarn swap. There are no particular rules or requirements or time frames, the idea is just to put together a box full of goodies that we think the other person would enjoy. On Christmas Eve I received a treasure box from across the ocean. Sometimes, it's like Emma can read my mind. This box was a beautiful sampler of hand-dyed UK sock yarns. How could I not love that?

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A Treasure Box of Hand-dyed UK Sock Yarns

A box like this is really too good not to share, especially since I know that there are a lot of sock yarn junkies out there just like me who are always looking for wonderful new sources to feed their addictions with. So, starting with the peachy colored yarn at the top center and working my way clockwise...

  • Blue Faced Leicester sock wool in peachy-pinks, purples and a bit of red from The Natural Dye Studio. This lovely yarn has been hand dyed with dyes from natural sources. I'm not 100% sure, but I think the colorway might be "Burnt Ruby". No matter what it is, it's a beautiful two ply yarn. And the two skeins are definitely enough for a pair of socks.
  • Lucia Sock Yarn from Posh Yarn, colorway unknown (maybe Evening Star?)-- the colors are very similar to the BFL, though. This yarn is 30% cashmere and 70% merino. Yum! I can tell you right now, I'm not sharing this stuff! It's just about as soft as you might imagine it would be.
  • Fyberspates Sock Yarn in Heather Mist. This yarn is a 15% nylon 85% wool blend, but you would hardly guess there was any nylon component given how soft it is. Given the way this yarn is dyed, it will definitely have lovely purple and grey stripes. Very fun!
  • Peace of Beauty Sock Yarn in Mountain Fruit. This yarn is 100% merino superwash and is 100% absolutely luscious. Of all the yarns in the box, I've probably fondled these two skeins the most. I can't quite explain what draws me so far in with this yarn. The color is extraordinary, it has the quality of being both rich and faded. The presentation is beautiful. The hand is very nice.
  • Colinette Jitterbug Sock Yarn in Bright Charcoal. This is also a 100% merino superwash yarn and it was a treat to see because just the day before I got the box I had read about the yarn and was wondering where the best place to find some would be. I guess it surprises me that it took Colinette so long to get into dyeing sock yarn. And this stuff doesn't disappoint. I have a sneaking suspicion that Emma snuck this one in to help me on my quest for man-friendly sock yarn. This colorway is definitely boy compatible. But who knows if I will actually share?
  • Curious Yarns Sock Yarn in Igloo. (Unfortunately, their website seems to be down right now). This is a 4-ply 25% nylon 75% wool yarn with some of my favorite faded blue and aqua colors. It's very soft (once again, softer than you'd expect from a yarn with nylon content) and the dying is lovely. Very evokative of early spring mornings.

Tucked under the Jitterbug is a lovely little keychain "sock blocker" with instructions to make a mini sock to put over the blocker. What a fun thing! Certainly beats the metal ring I've been using for a while. That will definitely be a fun little project for a gloomy Chicago winter weekend.

I hope it goes without saying that there's not one thing in this box that I don't absolutely love. And, believe it or not, most of these colors are completely under-represented in my sock yarn stash. This box was a fantastic introduction to a collection of hand-dyers that I had no idea were out there. The world is clearly full of beautiful hand-dyed sock yarns!

Square Three

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The Three Basic Log Cabin Squares

The Log Cabin Baby Blanket project is a nice project to have in my back pocket. Whenever I feel tired or unmotivated, I reach into the basket and pull it out and start working in those simple garter stitch rows. Inevitably, after a few of those rows, I sit back, look at my work, and just smile at how those simple stitches turn into something with an elegant geometric quality.

I am now done with the three base squares. The most recent one is the one with the green border. I like looking at all three of them together. It's remarkable to me that you can use the same three colors in different proportions and have squares that leave very different impressions. I've read that early on babies see contrast better than they really identify different colors. If so, I think this blanket should be relatively interesting to my friend's upcoming new addition.

I've started on the fourth square. It's a repeat of the sqare with the blue border. Hard to believe I'm almost half way finished with this project. And there is definitely something about working on these squares individually that makes the whole project seem to go faster than I think it would if I was starting at the center and working my way outward.

Big Ol' Ballwinder

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When you buy yourself a spinning wheel, you think to yourself: How cool, I can buy this one machine and I can spin. I don't need any more equipment. Just me and some bobbins and the swift and ballwinder I already have from all that knitting. You might even tell your significant other how when you buy your wheel, you won't need anything else. You've reached the apogee of fiber equipment. You're good to go for the forseeable future.

Yeah, right.

My spinning wheel has turned out to be a tool I absolutely love, but it's also turned out to be the sort of tool that begets the purchase of other tools. Want to work on more than one spinning project at once? Time to get yourself a bunch more bobbins. Want to spin a bit faster and avoid having to change hooks. You need that WooLee Winder. Better throw in a few more bobbins for that, too. Tried out that big ol' plying head and made a big ol' skein? Better hope you have a good sized swift. And that lovely plastic Royal ballwinder that was always sufficient for commercial knitting yarn. Heh. It's probably not going to cut it.

In the summer/fall I started to look for a ballwinder that could handle jumbo-sized skeins. I really only came across a couple of options and I figured I would end up with the Strauch ball winder that I had seen at several fiber festivals. So I headed off to the Fold to see if Toni had them for sale. She had the Fricke electric motor driven version, but I wasn't really interested in a motorized ball winder. Then she told me that Nancy's Knit Knacks was going to introduce a ball winder and it looked like a good machine. Could I wait a little bit?

Well, there are very few ball winder emergencies in my house, and after watching the video for the NKK Ball Winder (click the link and look in the right sidebar) I was intrigued. It looked like a lot of engineering had gone into their machine, and it had a lot of flexibility to go along with the ability to wind big balls. Not only that, but it was a heck of a lot more attractive than the Strauch/Fricke options (this is my opinion... clearly tool beauty is in the eye of the beholder). When Toni finally got hers in and I got to try it out, I placed my order on the spot. As a woman whose father, brother, husband and brother-in-law are all engineers, I'm pretty good at telling when I've found a good piece of equipment that has the potential to last me a life time.

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My New NKK Ball Winder

My new toy arrived at my house just after Christmas. Unfortunately, I haven't had too many opportunities to put it through its paces yet, but every time I use it I get the same big goofy grin on my face that my husband does when he installs a new high powered graphics card in his home theatre computer and plugs in a first person shooter. This, my friends, is, I think, my forever ball winder. It can wind balls of 1 pound and larger, it has a smooth mechanism, the yarn guide is adjustable, and it has the flexibility to be upgraded to a motorized machine should I want to go that route at some point in time. This is the sort of toy that makes me want to pull all the yarn out of my closet and turn it into center pull balls.

And I'm absolutely sure that after this, I won't need any more spinning support tools.

Really.

Well, at least not for a little while.

Red Scarf in Progress

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Red Scarf in Progress

I'm almost a little embarrassed to be posting this picture. After all, you would have thought that if anyone would have been done with their Red Scarf for the Orphan Foundation of America, it should have been me. In this case, I am a victim of my desire to create something "truly special". This desire gets me in trouble with my knitting all the time. It is why my sister-in-law still doesn't have a felted handbag after a Christmas promise 3 years ago. It is why my aunt is still waiting for a scarf, even though I have the most delicious baby alpaca yarn all ready to go. Believe it or not, this scarf is the 4th iteration after several unsuccessful starts from Knitting in Nature and some ideas that didn't quite work out from a couple of interesting pattern stitches from Barbara Walkers treasure troves.

After the third failure, I realized that I was probably trying to make this too difficult. In my attempt to create something "truly special" I was going to end up getting blocked and not creating anything at all. I also stepped back from it from a bit and had the realization that the "truly special" part of this scarf did not have to be some artistic design. The truly special part was going to be the fact that I invested the time to make something warm for someone who is working hard to make their way in the world with not a lot of support. Amazing that that realization took so long, but sometimes my brain doesn't work in the way that you might expect it to.

After that, I turned back to Barbara Walker in search of something simple, unisex and something that a college student might not mind wearing. I'd never knit anything using a traditional basketweave stitch before, and that seemed to fit all the criteria I had in mind. So I cast on and after watching 6" or so come together rather smoothly, I decided that this was the right pattern for the job. Simple, do-able, but still an interesting texture.

This picture was taken about a week ago. Since then I've gotten through my second skein of Lamb's Pride worsted and I'm about to start on my third (it's only 52" or so long and I think if it were going to be a scarf for me, I'd want it to be at least 60"). It's home stretch time -- I know I'll have time to finish it and get it to where it is supposed to go.

In case you didn't read it on Norma's Red Scarf 2007 project blog here's a reminder that the Orphan Foundation is ready to accept Red Scarves -- you can send them in any time between now an the end of January.

Here's the address:

c/o Care Package
Orphan Foundation of America
21351 Gentry Drive, Suite 130
Sterling, Virginia 20166

As a reminder, the organizers are encouraging everyone to attach a note of encouragement (and care instruction) to the scarves and they would really love it if scarf knitters or other project supporters would consider including some other little gift such as stamps, a gift card, candy, etc. This request made me think back to college -- I always appreciated those little extras from my mom and other family members who remembered me.

If you haven't started yet... there is still time. Get some red yarn, find a simple stitch, and knit like the wind. Remember, what's truly special is that someone took the time to make something for someone else who might need a little boost. There's really nothing in life more truly special than the gift of time.

Tweedy Handspun

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Left: Ball of Fine Wool, Angora and Silk from Jane Purcell

This picture is a repeat from my trip to the Michigan Fiber Festival last August. Unfortunately, it seems to be the only image I have of the 4 ounces of Wool, Angora and Silk roving that I bought from Jane Purcell (sadly websiteless, because her color combos are incredibly vivid and engaging). Those of you who know me in person probably know why I was drawn to this roving: the vivid color in that blue/green range that I just can't seem to have enough of. Unlike many rovings I'd purchased previously, this roving had also been blended so that the colors ran vertically through the roving instead of horizontally. And I was curious as to what kind of final effect that would create. Once I picked up the roving, it was hard not to pick up several more. To be honest, I now wish I'd given in to temptation. The wool/angora/silk combo is pleasantly soft and lofty and 4 ounces only gives you so many options.

When I started spinning, I was thinking something in the neighborhood of a 2 ply sport-to-DK weight yarn. I have to be honest, though, I really haven't gotten to the point in my spinning where I'm sophisticated enough to sample and work towards the yarn I envision. Mostly, I just start spinning a single and spin it where it "feels" right. Probably once I have become a more accomplished spinner, I'll push my fiber around more. But for now, I'm content to let the fiber lead.

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2 Ply DK Weight Wool/Angora/Silk

The result of my efforts is this skein -- about 300 yards of tweedy happiness. It's about 14 WPI, which puts it in the light DK range. I wish that my camera could handle this saturated teal well -- all the pictures I took had a much bluer cast than is true to life.

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Wool/Angora/Silk Close Up

Part of letting this fiber do what it wanted to do was to let the lighter green areas be a little slubby. I'm not sure, but if I had to guess, I'd say the light green fiber is probably mostly silk, given the way it behaves. Because there were little slubs in the fiber, I just let a lot of those come along as they wanted to. Between that and the general distribution of the light green and just a touch of midnight blue throughout the teal fiber, the result is a yarn with a lot of depth and dimensionality to go along with a very tweedy disposition. Something that appeals to me a great deal and tells me a lot about the kinds of rovings I should be looking for in the future. This is one of the first yarns that I have spun (besides the moorit CVM) where I really feel that I could make an actual garment out of this.

But, of course, 300 yards doesn't get me very far along the road to a garment. But I am thinking it might make a absolutely lovely pair of fingerless gloves to keep my hands warm while I use the computer -- now that the winter weather we expect to be present in January in Chicago finally seems to have come home to roost!

Tweedy Handspun, Part II

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In scientific publishing, there's the concept of the "Least Publishable Unit". Because scientists are often judged by the number of publications to their record, it's sometimes seen as advantageous to publish your data in the smallest possible chunks that you can still put together as a story. Today's post might seem like I'm trying to mark out the "Least Bloggable Unit" given that the information would have fit very neatly with yesterday's post and that I had originally put everything together to be part of the same post. But that's not really the intention. As I was thinking about it, I decided that the spinning and the swatching were really two different stories, they just happened to involve the same yarn. That, and at the end of the day, this blog is still my fibery journal, and I wanted a little more time to think about the swatch that I'm going to talk about today.

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Tweedy Handspun Swatch:From Top to Bottom: Some Cables, Some Lace and Some Stockinette

After spinning the main skein, I had enough single left on one bobbin to spin up about 42 yards of 2-ply that I could use to swatch with. My first thoughts for a use for the yarn had been some fingerless mitts of my own design -- not because there aren't a lot of other lovely examples out there, but because I love to use small projects as templates to try things out. Somehow, if the experiement doesn't go well with a small project, the ripping process doesn't feel quite as painful and it's not hard for me to get started trying something else out.

I've talked before about the differences between 2-ply and 3-ply yarn, and since I was thinking about combining cables and lace in my mitts, I thought this would be a good opportunity to swatch and see how each type of pattern looked in the yarn. And while I know that the yarn has both silk and angora content, the information I have for the roving doesn't give me percentages to work with, so I wasn't completely sure what to expect from the yarn in terms of drape and elasticity.

I determined that the yarn I made came in around 14 WPI -- which made it a light DK. So I picked up a set of US 5 (3.75 mm) needles and cast on to see what the swatch would tell me. After knitting the swatch, I soaked and blocked it to see if washing would have any effect on the final fabric.

On plain stockinette, I get about 5.5 stitches/inch and a soft fabric that I like both the look and feel of. It has a reasonable amount of drape, and a reasonable amount of structure. Important, because I don't want floppy drapey mitts. So the size 5 needle was a decent call. Though, in a pinch, this yarn is probably fine enough to go down to a 4 if I wanted a denser fabric.

The next section I tried was a simple lace pattern. Anyone who has worked on my most recent sock pattern will recognize the Cat's Paw lace pattern -- it was the one I could remember easily without having to refer to a pattern book, and was actually a small enough motif to consider for a pair of mitts. I consider the lace results to be just okay. The fuzziness of the yarn muddies the lace definition a little bit, so I don't think anything complicated would show up very well. But it's doable.

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Swatch Cable Detail

The final section of the swatch is a couple of simple cables. I think I made a mistake with something in the cable on the right, which is why the close up focuses on the simple 6-stitch cable on the left. I was initially worried that this yarn, given that it's both two ply and made up of some not very elastic fibers, wouldn't be a good candidate for cabling. The swatch changed my mind completely. The cable definitely has a less three-dimensional quality than you might expect if I was working with a 3-ply yarn, but the cable still has nice definition and the flatter texture is probably a bonus for a pair of mits that I want to lay flat against my hands and not get caught on things while I work at my computer (my computer room gets quite cold during the day in the winter, and I find that my mouse hand is almost always ice cold if I spend the day working at home).

On the overall, I consider this swatch a success. I like the hand of the final fabric, and it looks like I'll have no problem with simple lace and cable textures. I can wear the fabric against my skin without irritation and I like that there is no terribly obvious striping. I think the tweedy quality adds to the final product without distracting too much from the knitted design. I am still frustrated with my camera's inability to reproduce the color of this yarn in a way that does not make it look like a sickly aqua, but hopefully by the time I have something interesting to show with this yarn again, I'll have figured out how to deal with that.

So the next step is for me to dig through some stitch dictionaries, doodle in my little paper journal, and figure out what I want to do on the small canvas of handknit fingerless mitts.

Summer Sherbert Knee Socks

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In spite of my Red Scarf committment, I have to be honest and admit right now that when it comes to new projects it's really all about me. You would have thought that after I finished my pair of Sloopy Socks that I'd have gotten right onto making John's pair of handspun socks. No, I got side tracked from that after taking the time to discuss pattern stitches with him. And when I started to think about pattern stitches, I realized that I wouldn't have a simple sock project that could run around town with me. So I decided that it was time to start another pair of socks for me -- after seeing a few pairs of knee socks show up in the knitting blogosphere, I knew I wanted a pair for me, too.

Mine started when I placed my handspun Sloopy (orange) sock yarn next to the Say A Little Prayer (lime green) Sock Hop (also handspun) sock yarn. It reminded me of those orange and green sherbert mixtures that used to show up in the summer time when I was a kid. Wouldn't it be fun, I thought, to have green socks with orange heels, toes and cuffs. Cheerful and summery, I figured, the perfect remedy for Chicago winter. Can you believe that I've never knit a sock with a contrasting heel and toe?

As if contrasting colors in a sock weren't radical enough, I also decided that I wanted to make the most out of my Sock Hop -- what better then, than knitting from the toe up? I'd been resisting toe up sock knitting because while I like short-row heels, I don't really dig short row toes. But after some small amount of digging, I discovered what most of you have known for a long time: it's possible to start a toe up sock from a provisional cast on and then knit in the round with increases so that I could have the 4 point increase/decrease toe that I like best.

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The First Knee Sock

When I cast on, my intention was to keep everything very simple and just knit in plain stockinette. But right around the time I turned the heel, I got to thinking that it would be fun to play with a pattern or motif to see how the striping played off against it. Given that the striping in the Sock Hop yarn is pretty dominant, I figured that the pattern would need to be simple. And to keep the knitting more or less simple, I decided that I would keep the motif at the sides of the sock. So I pulled out my Barbara Walker Second Treasury (of all of her 4 pattern stitch books, I have to say, this is the one that I keep going back to) and found the "Ears of Grass" stitch -- I loved the simple eyelets and gentle curves. And as a panel of 15 stitches, it was almost perfect as a motif for these socks, given the 56 stitch circumference I had started with.

I did a test swatch to make sure that I liked how it would turn out. After deciding that I loved it, I continued on with the sock. This sock took me a little less than 5 days to bring to life. To say that I love it would be an understatement. I was a bit worried that the pattern detail when combined with two color socks might be a little overwhelming, but I think the final result is well balanced.

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The Motif Causes a Subtle Wave

This detail shot shows you what I love about this pattern motif -- you get a subtle biasing that creates a little wave in the striping. Nothing too extreme, just a gentle undulation. It also shows that the pattern motif doesn't get lost in the striping. Something else that also makes me very happy. After all, why go to the trouble of knitting eyelets if you're not going to see them?

Although this sock is 16.5" from cuff to the bottom of the heel I still have a little bit of the Sock Hop yarn left. Not sure if I could have gotten the heel, toe and cuff from it, but it probably would have been close.

So now I'm chomping at the bit to get the second sock started. But I've told myself that I can start or finish nothing else before my Red Scarf is ready to send on it's way.

Finished Red Scarf

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A Finished Red Scarf in its Native Environment

Woohoo! My Red Scarf is finished. It's a bit over 5' long and a bit over 8" wide. It's knit with a simple basketweave stitch (with the first stitch on each edge slipped) using Lamb's Pride Worsted. I used 2 skeins and probably 25%-30% of a third to get it to the length I wanted it to be.

Tonight I'm going to find a pretty ribbon and a card to write a little note and provide some care instructions. And as soon as I can I'm going to head to Borders to get a little gift card so that the recipient of my scarf can indulge in a new book, CD, magazines or whatever other little treat they might like to have for themselves. Call me a geek, but when I was in college being able to add to my music collection and indulge in a shiny new magazine was always a little bit of a treat. I actually got a subscription to Time magazine even back then and always looked forward to it as a break from studying.

And I'd still like to encourage everyone out there who is working on a scarf to perservere! There are still two weeks left and I suspect that there are many students who will love your efforts no matter how simple or complicated. If you would like to see more about the project, you can find more information here.

Just in case you missed the address of the Orphan Foundation of America to send the scarves to earlier this week, I thought I'd post it again:

c/o Care Package
Orphan Foundation of America
21351 Gentry Drive, Suite 130
Sterling, Virginia 20166

P.S. to all of you knee sock lovers out there... first of all, thank you for all your words of praise and support. Kind words are always appreciated. Second, after I finish my socks I'll put all my notes together and make them available to everyone.

Spinning Romney

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Romney on My Bobbin

Given my current fascination with knee socks, log cabin squares and fingerless mitts, I haven't gotten very much spinning done. But I have started a new spinning project. Remember this fiber? Lovely hand -dyed Romney roving from Fleecemakers. I'd never spun Romney before, but I've read the blogs of plenty of people who have nice things to say about it. This stuff is plenty soft, and the colors are deep and rich so I thought I'd try spinning up a bit to see what it wanted to do.

So far, the single I am spinning is considerably thicker than what I "normally" spin. I suspect this is because the fiber is a bit longer staple, but I think it also had to do with my attempt to get bits of all the colors blended into most areas so that I could avoid that whole stripey yarn thing. It may sound kind of funny, but I'm rather excited about this single, not so much because of the great color and soft hand of the fiber, but because I seem to have gotten some place where I am making more decisions about what the diameter of my single is going to be like. I think if I were to turn this into a two-ply, I'd get something closer to worsted weight rather than the something on the light end of DK weight, which is my "normal" result.

Now that I've finished up that pair of knee socks (more on that tomorrow when I can take some pictures during the daylight) and while I'm still thinking about designs for mitts, I suspect I'll put a bit more effort back into spinning. After all, I still have a whole lot of moorit CVM waiting to become yarn as well!

Wishing for Summer

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Summer Sherbert Knee Socks Wait for the Sun

Woohee! The knee socks, they are done!

The specs: The "body" of these socks were knit with Sock Hop handspun sock yarn from Crown Mountain Farms in the colorway "Say a Little Prayer". The heels, toes and cuffs were knit with my own hand spun, made from Crown Mountain Farms hand dyed superwash merino in the colorway "Hang on Sloopy". Gauge for both yarns is 7 stitches/inch on US Size 1/2.25 mm needles, and the socks are 56 stitches in circumference increased up to 80 stitches at the widest dimension.

The process: The socks were made toe up using a "standard" wedge toe which was started using a provisional cast-on technique. the instep was done in straight stockinette, followed by a shortrow heel. The sock leg is embellished on both sides using the "Ears of Grass" motif from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury of Knitting patterns, which was knit in conjunction with the increasing required for the calf shaping. The sock was completed with a cuff of K2 P2 ribbing and bound off with the standard cast-off method on larger needles.

The knitter: The knitter is happy. The knitter wore her socks to work today, and even though no one but the knitter knew about them, they added a little bit of sunshine to her day. The knitter did observe that they might be just a tad looser than is perfect, but they still pretty much stay up on their own. After a day of wear at work the stitches and yarn look good.

A few small details:

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Increasing and Decreasing Detail on the Top of the Socks

The increases and decreases are visible on these socks, but I sort of like the pattern they create.

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Ears of Grass Pattern Stitch Detail

I think this is a great sock stitch pattern, and some time in the future might have to make a sock where the pattern extends all the way around (it's an easy pattern and doesn't really slow the knitting down too much). I charted it in Excel with a knitting symbol font (the instructions are just written out in the BW book) and would be happy to share it with anyone who would like to have it.

Since a number of folks expressed interest in knee socks, I though I'd spend the rest of the week doing an impromptu toe up knee sock tutorial to share what I learned and to help anyone else out there who "needs" a pair of winter knee socks get a running start at it. Stay tuned tomorrow for a discussion of toes and heels.

Well, actually it's not so hard at all. The first part is the easy part: the foot. You actually don't really have to do any measurements at all to get this part started. But you do have to make some decisions. The first decision being: how am I going to cast on?

There are a number of different options. Probably the best place to start is Wendy Johnson's classic Knitty article "Tip Top Toes". In it, she describes setting up a short-row toe with a provisional cast on, a Figure Eight cast on that can be used to start a standard wedge or star toe, or a provisional cast on that can be used to start a standard wedge or star toe. The advantage of the second two technniques is that when you cast on, you don't really have to know how big around the sock is going to be. You can just keep increasing until you have a sock that is wide enough around for the foot you are knitting for. These are nice options if you don't know exactly what gauge you are going to get or don't really want to do much measuring.

More recently, there was a Knitty article by Judy Becker describing the "magic cast on" for toe up socks. This cast-on is an alternate cast on to the Figure 8 cast on for those who find it to be too fiddly.

There's also one other toe up start method that I know about: the Bosnian toe. Lucy Neatby describes it in her book "Cool Socks Warm Feet" (and I think she also describes it in some of her instructional videos) -- you can see an example of this toe in a pair I made a while back -- it is essentially a knitted garter stitch square. After you knit the square, you pick up stitches along each of the 4 sides and start knitting in the round.

This is, no doubt, just a jumping off point. I suspect that if I were to search farther into the depths of the Internet, I would find more ways to start toe up socks. But 5 ways is enough for me at this point, especially since I really liked the results I got from using a provisional cast on.

The other reason that I liked the provisional cast on is that it allowed me to do a wedge toe. The wedge toe is my favorite toe for me. If you were working on 4 needles, the wedge toe is created by increasing at the outer edge of each needle so that you get a wedge shape when the toe is flattened. Usually, I do my increases every other row until I get to the size I want for the body of the sock. The provisional cast on is also a nice way to set up a star toe. Star toes create a more rounded, decorative toe. To make a star toe you increase at 4 or 6 points evenly spaced around your stitches. If you increase at 4 points, you can do an increase row every other row. If you increase at 6 points, you probably want to do an increase row every third row. To see examples of what I am talking about, Socknitters has a great page that shoes pictures of the star and "standard" toe.

Why not a short-row toe for me? No good reason, it's just personal. I am not really happy with the way my short-row toes look. But they are definitely a good option.

Once you've decided on a toe type and picked the best cast on to help you make it happen, the next thing you need to do is keep increasing the number of stitches until you get to the size you want the instep of the sock to be. Obviously, the size will depend on the circumference of the ball of your foot and how snug you like your socks. Since you're starting toe up, you can just try the socks on as you go a long and stop when you get to the right fit. Good deal, eh? No measuring, no worries about gauge.

And then you just keep knitting until you get to about 2" short of the lenght of your foot from the tip of your big toe to the back of your heel. You'll probably want to do a little measuring for this.

Now, I am not going to say that you can only do a short row heel... (if you want to see a Dutch heel done toe up, check out the Widdershins pattern that was in the summer 2006 Knitty) but I am going to suggest that it is probably the easiest heel to execute for a toe up sock, and it's become my favorite heel because it fits in with my rhythm for making socks. There are lots and lots of ways to execute a short row heel. So many that it would be hard for me to link to all the possibilities. But if you're looking for a heel that I think gives the best results (I've tried a bunch of them in the quest for one that I could execute consistently without a lot of gapping) I'd like to point you to Priscilla Gibson-Roberts "Simple Socks, Plain and Fancy" (this book is an excellent guide to both short row toes and heels and also just sock construction in general.... if you like to knit socks, this is one of those "must have" technique books).

I do my short row heels on 50% of the stitches of the total sock and short-row down to 20% of the total stitches, but this may take some trial and error to find your perfect match. I don't have a very deep heel. If you do, you might want to consider starting your heels on 60% of the total stitches.

Once you're finished with the heel, it's going to be time to think about some of the more complicated elements of the sock. So I think this is a good time to take a short break. In the next part of the tutorial, I'll talk about taking measurements to help you fit your knee sock and what to think about if you want to include a pattern motif in the leg of the sock.

Square Four

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4 Squares

Just a brief interlude to share my fourth completed log cabin baby blanket square. Almost halfway through, now! And it actually looks like I am going to be able to get six squares out of my first three skeins of STR heavyweight, which means that I will have plenty of yarn left over for seaming and edging the blanket. And, of course, the next square is already in progress.

Warning! Here comes a little bit of knitty math. But I promise, it's not hard. Grab some soothing tea, a tape measure, a convenient leg, relax and just follow the instructions and everything will turn out fine.

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Leg Schematic

Apologies for the image... it was the best leg image I could find in my MS clip art collection and I didn't want to steal anyone's images off the web. So you get hiker guy leg. I'll try to do my best to describe what you're measuring and why. I recommend that you take these measurements while sitting down, your foot flat on the floor and your knee at close to a 90 degree angle.

Before you get started, make sure you measure the number of stitches per inch and the number of rows per inch (or whatever your favorite unit of measurment is) for the instep of your sock. You'll need this number later.

Circumference Measurements

A: Ball of the Foot. This is not really a required measurement, but it's the measurement that determined the circumference of the instep of your sock. Generally speaking, it's going to be one of the widest parts of your foot. Most of the time, if you take this measurement and multiply it by 0.9 you're going to have the circumference of your sock. The reason you don't use 100% of the measurement is that knitted fabric stretches, and a good sock has a little grip to help keep its shape.

B: The Leg, Just Above the Ankle. You need to take this measurement. Usually this measurement around your leg just above the ankle is going to be very similar to the circumference of the ball of your foot -- this is why most sock patterns have the same number of stitches for the leg and instep of a sock. This measurement is important for us, because it represents the narrowest part of your leg (in most cases) and it's going to determine the base number of stitches around the leg before we start any shaping.

C: The Calf. I know, I know, this is not something a lot of us want to measure. But if you're going to have a well fit knee sock, it's a pretty critical measurement. Be sure you're being honest when you do the measurement and that you get the circumference of your calf at the widest point. This measurement is going to determine the number of stitches we're going to increase to as we do any shaping.

D: Just Below the Knee. This is the place where you want the sock of the top to hit. Because the circumference of this area is usually a bit smaller than the widest part of the calf, it's important to measure this area too, otherwise, you may end up with a sock that is too loose at the top, even with ribbing. Nothing sucks more than a knee sock that is always falling down.

See? Not so bad so far, right? Okay, now let's take the length measurements,

Length Measurements

I'll be the first to tell you that taking some of these measurements can be a little fussy. Sometimes, it can help to have someone who can help you with these. If you can't find good help like that, just be patient and careful. It works. I had to do it for my own sock measurments.

E: From Knee to Floor. You want to take this measurement at the back of your leg, from the floor to just under your knee (or wherever you would like to have the top of your sock hit). You don't need to worry too much about curvature -- since the front part of your leg is pretty much straight down, it balances out in the end.

F: From the Widest Part of the Calf to the Floor. This is one of the most important measurements you will make, since it's going to help determine where the increase shaping for the calf stops and the decrease shaping for the knee starts. When you measure your calf circumference, you might want to make a little mark on your leg to help you remember where you are measuring to. Rubber bands that won't cut off your circulation work well for this sort of thing if they'll stay put.

G: From the Area Above the Ankle to the Floor. This is another location you might want to mark after you measure the circumference. It's also an important measurement.

Ok. Take a deep breath. All the measuring is done. Now there's just a little bit of math ahead. But don't worry. You can do most of it without even resorting to a calculator, and I'm going to show you an example, based on my own measurements.

A. 8.5"
B. 9.5" (note, I did this a little higher than just above my ankle, which is why it is longer than A)
C. 13"
D. 12"
E. 15"
F. 12"
G. 8"

Stitch Gauge: 7 stitches/inch
Row Gauge: 11 stitches/inch

First of all, let's start by determining how many stitches around you're going to need for that widest calf measurement. We need to calculate for some stretchiness in the fabric, so first off we're going to only use 90% of the circumference measurement for the calf. Then we're going to multiply that number by the number of stitches per inch in our gauge.

Calf Circumference Stitches: C * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 13 inches * 0.9 * 7 stitches/inch = 82 stitches Calf Circumference

Now we're going to figure out the number of stitches we should be starting from just above the ankle. The formula is almost exactly the same:

Ankle Circumference Stitches = B * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 9.5 inches * 0.90 * 7 stitches/inch = 60 stitches Ankle Circumference

So far so good, I hope!

Since I like to keep my numbers divisible by 4 (to be compatible with dividing over 4 DP needles and dealing with K2P2 ribbing at the top) I am going to round the number of stitches for the calf circumference down to 80. You can choose to do this of thing or not. It's up to you. Generally speaking, a few stitches either way won't make too much difference unless you are using a very large yarn for your sock. To get the total number of stitches your're going to increase:

Increase Stitches = Calf Circ Stitches - Ankle Circ Stitches
Ex. 80 stitches - 60 stitches = 20 sitches increased

Now you need to decide how many increases you want to make on a row every time you do an increase row. Once again, I like to add a number of stitches that keeps my total number of stitches on the needles divisible by 4. So I chose to increase 4 stitches every increase row. To get the number of increase rows you're going to need to have:

Increase Rows = Increase Stitches / Stitches Increased Per Row
Ex. 20 stitches / 4 stitches/increase row = 5 increase rows

Okay. Now onto calculating the increases. First of all you need to calculate the number of rows in the length of the region that you are going to do your increases over.

Rows to Increase Over = ( F - G ) * Row Gauge
Example: (12 inches - 8 inches) * 11 rows/inch = 44 rows to increase over

Now you determine the increase row interval.

Increase Row Interval = Rows to Increase Over / Increase Rows
Ex. 44 rows to increase over / 5 increase rows = 8.8 rows

It's hard to do increases every 8.8 rows -- at least I haven't figured out how to knit 8/10ths of a row yet. So I decided to do my increases every 8 rows, starting at 8" above my ankle. Rounding up or down is a personal thing, but I wanted to make sure I still had room to do the decreases after the calf, so I chose to round down a bit. (That meant that I would have all my increases completed in 40 rows (5 increase rows * an increase row every 8 rows = 40 rows), so I knit four rows even after that before dealing with the decreases).

I hope everyone is still with me. We're getting close to the end. The last thing we need to do is figure out how many stitches to decrease to snug up things around the area below the knee.

Below Knee Stitch Circumference = D * 0.90 * Stitch Gauge
Ex. 12 inches * 0.9 * 7 stitches/inch = 76 stitches.

This is a nice number, because it's already divisible by 4, if you want K2P2 ribbing you'll want to adjust your number up or down to a number divisible by 4. In this case, I usually go the direction that leads to the fewest stitches added or subtracted. Now to calculate the number of stitches we have to decrease.

Number of Stitches to Decrease = Calf Circ. Stitches - Below Knee Circ. Stitches
Ex. 80 Calf Stitches - 76 Below Knee Stitches = 4 stitches.

Just like I increased 4 stitches/row for my increase rows, I'm going to decrease 4 stitches on any decrease row.

Decrease Rows = Decrease Stitches / Stitches Decreased Per Row
Ex. 4 Decrease Stitches / 4 Stitches Decreased Per Decrease Row = 1 Decrease Row

Usually, I want to do all my decreases before I start the ribbing. So now you need to know how many inches of ribbing you're going to knit. I did an inch of ribbing.

Rows to Decrease Over = (E - F - Inches of Ribbing) * Row Gauge
Ex. (15 - 12 - 1) * 11 = 22 Rows

Decrease Row Interval = Rows to Decrease Over / Decrease Rows
Ex. 22 rows / 1 decrease row = 22 rows.

Now, this result isn't entirely helpful because it doesn't really tell you where to place anything. In this case, I could place it at the very first row after I'd completed my increase intervals. But I decided that to better match the shaping of my leg, I'd do it halfway through the number of rows to the ribbing. So I did my decrease row 11 rows after completing the 44 rows over which I did my increases. After that, I just knit 10 more rows straight and started in on my ribbing.

See? Not so hard. A few calculations and you've got yourself a simple stockinette knee sock.

But what if you want to include a simple pattern motif? How do you know where to put those increases and decreases? That takes a bit more math and a little bit of thought, so I figured it would be best to split it into it's own section. Stay tuned for the last part of this tech discussion...

First of all, you all know that patterns on the leg of a sock can go from the very simple to the very complicated. I'm going to stay focused on adding a simple motif to the sides of the sock since it makes it easier to explain how to decide where to place your increases and decreases -- and because when you're dealing with an all-over pattern, how you place the increases and decreases takes a significant knowledge of the pattern motif you have chosen, and it's rather hard to generalize that for the purposes of a blog post.

Anyway, if you want to add a simple motif to your sock, the first thing you have to do is decide on the motif. What motifs you choose should have a lot to do with your yarn.

Striping yarns, like the Sock Hop yarn that I used, tend to be best shown off in motifs that have bias -- in other words, the stitches lean one way or another and as a result, the stripes are also shown in interesting ways (Gruperina's Jaywalker socks are an excellent example of a biasing pattern highlighting stripey sock yarn).

Solids and semi solids will show off eyelet, lace and cable designs a bit better because the subtle color variations don't distract visually from the pattern you are knitting.

Variagated, non-striping yarns tend to do their best work either in solid stockinette or with simple all-over textured patterns like ribbing. Variagation, like stripes, tends to distract from elaborate stitch work.

But at the end of the day, it's all really about what you like. I've seen some great cabling done with stripey yarn and lovely lace in strongly variagated yarn. If you aren't sure, I recommend that you swatch just a little bit before trying it out with your sock to make sure that you like the effect -- it's a lot easier to swatch a little motif and rip it out to try something else than to have to rip out 3-4" of sock if the motif doesn't make you happy.

When I picked Ears of Grass from Barbara Walker's Second Treasury, I did so because of the subtle biasing and the simple but well defined yarn overs. I thought that if it was simple, it might work well with the Sock Hop which has very irregular striping. And I did a little swatch beforehand to be sure I liked it.

Something else to keep in mind about motifs: lacy motifs will tend to add "give" to your sock and give you a looser sock, cables will suck up stitches and give you a tighter sock. Stranded stitches will decrease the flexibility of the sock, as will some biasing stitch patterns. You need to keep this in mind when thinking about your increases and decreases. This is another place where being able to try on the sock as you go pays off since you can add increases and decreases as you need to as you go.

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Ears of Grass Motif

Since a number of folks expressed an interest in having a charted version of this motif, I am providing you with both an image (right click and you can save it to your computer) and the Excel file that contains the original diagram. You can download file by clicking here. In order to see the knitting symbols, you will need to download and install the font from Aire River Design -- it's free for personal and professional use.

So where to start? First of all, I'm starting with 56 stitches on my needles, and I'm using four double points, on which I have 14 stitches/needle.

My motif, however, is 15 stitches across, and since there are decrease stitches on either edge, I'd like to have an extra "selvedge" stitch on either side of the motif, so for each motif I need to have 17 stitches on a needle.

The first thing to do then, is to get my needles into position. After my short row heel, I have two needles over the back of the sock and two needles over the front of the sock. I'm going to shift all the stitches now so that the stitches at the right edges of my needles become the center stitches so that the motif can be centered on the sides of the sock. In the process of doing that, I'm gong to make sure that I have 16 stitches on the needles meant for the motif and 12 stitches on the needles in the front and back of the leg.

Because I don't want my motif covered up by shoes, I decided not to start the motifs until I added about an inch of straight stockinette above the heel. This is personal preference. You can start your motif where ever you like.

Since I needed an odd number of stitches on my motif needle, on the last row of straight stockinette, I did a make 1 between the 2 center stitches of each of the motif needles to set up for the motif. If you have a motif with an even number of stitches, you obviously won't need to worry about this at all. If you have to do this, make sure you remember to factor this into your increases -- I only did two increases in my first increase row instead of 4 to compensate for the increase I used to center the motif.

Now you're just going to knit in the round until you get to the point where you need to start your increases. Which brings up the last thing you need to think about before you just whip out the rest of the sock -- where do you put your increases?

In the case where you have two side panel motifs, you want to keep them evenly spaced between the front and the back. This means that you can't put all your increases in the back (as you probably would if you were doing just straight stockinette) or you will start pushing your motifs towards the front of the leg. What I chose to do was to divide my increases evenly between the back and front needles. Since I was doing 4 increase stitches per increase round, that meant 2 increases at the front and two at the back. I chose to do my increases at the center of the front and back needles because I wanted them to be visible (I thought it was an interesting design element. But if you wanted them to be more subtle, you could put them on either edge of the needle near the motif. What kind of increase should you use? That's a matter of personal taste, but I chose left and right leaning make 1 stitches because I find them to be the most subtle increases that I can execute well.

The decreases work the same way. I chose to do them centered on the front and back needles. But again, if you want a more subtle look, you could move them to the edges of the front and back needle where they are closer to the side motif.

Different motifs or patterning on the leg of your sock clearly call for different kinds of increase work. If you'd like to see a beautiful ribbed knee sock where the increases were taken into the back of the sock, check out Kristi's post at Kntter's Anonymous (if Kristi and Cookie's blog doesn't give you sock yarn lust, I don't know what will... Cookie is she of the beautiful Pomatomus socks so there is much socky goodness to be found therein). Grumperina knit some stunning two color Estonian styled knee socks and did the increases on the sides of the socks to properly maintain central patterns on the front and back of the sock. And Cara at January One has a pair of straight stockinette knee socks where she did all the increases up the back of the calves. Hopefully these examples give a good idea of some of the possibilities for using the increases and decreases creatively to enhance your design.

Probably the last thing to discuss is when to stop your motif? I don't have a great answer for that. In my case, since the motif was 20 rows and it didn't makes sense to do a partial motif, I did as many complete motifs as I could before the ribbing. This meant, to get to the length of the sock that I wanted, with the amount of ribbing that I wanted, that I had about an inch of straight stockinette before the ribbing. If I'd had a 5 - 10 row motif, I would have run it all the way up to the ribbing. Unfortunately, this is just one of those things that it's hard to create a rule for given that there are so many different stitch patterns with so many different row intervals. The knitter just has to use their best judgement.

So that pretty much brings this little technique dialog to a close. Go forth and knit knee socks! There's still plenty of winter left to go!

Square Five

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5 Log Cabin Squares

And then there were 5! This weekend saw the completion of my 5th Log Cabin square for the baby blanket. I am now officially over half way done with this project -- well, at least with the part that involves knitting the squares, and not really including the part that involves seaming and creating a border. That means I have at least 8 weeks to tackle the remaining 4 squares. For once, I am actually ahead of schedule on a knitting project....

Resolutions, Or Lack Thereof

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Heh. It's the last day of January and I'm going to talk about resolutions. Actually, I'm going to talk about how I'm not going to make them. Clearly if you're not going to make resolutions, it really doesn't matter what day you decide not to make them on.

Most of this month I've been trying to decide about the whole issue of resolutions and whether to have them or not. The sad fact of the matter is that I start out with the best of intentions, but I rarely stick to what I've resolved to do at the beginning of the year. It doesn't matter whether I'm resolving to eat better, work out more or pick up a new knitting technique, if I don't feel motivated to do something, or more to the point, I feel overwhelmed by the magnitude of the task, I just won't really even get started on trying to accomplish it. And then there's the issue of predicting what will be important to me for a whole year. I live firmly in the camp of "life's too short to spend it doing things that make you miserable or don't interest you". So, in general, resolutions made in January are almost forgotten by the time Valentine's Day rolls around. I'm not even going to go back and look at the resolutions that I made last January. I can almost guarantee to you that I accomplished few to none of the things on my list.

But that said, I hate the idea of not trying to set some goals for myself when it comes to knitting and crafting. With that in mind, I decided that I would try a new approach to the whole resolution thing. I would pick one, yes just one, long range goal for the year. At the same time, I would pick one short range goal that fit with what was important to me in the here and now. And once I finished that goal, I would set another goal. That way, I'd always be picking a new goal that was actualy relevant.

The first short term goal for the year was cleaning up my blog front page. I moved all my completed projects out of my WIP list in the side bar into my Gallery (yes, 2006 was a very sock filled year) and I retired the Family Sock Challenge. I have to admit to a lot of guilt about not really wrapping that up in a graceful way. Once again, the best of intentions... But I would like to say thank you for everyone who participated, even if you only participated for a little while. I enjoyed the journey myself and was happy to see that I met that particular goal for the year (I think, perhaps, this is the only 2006 New Years Resolution that I accomplished). Goal Accomplished!

For my next short term goal, I've decided to inventory my stash. I suspect that there's a lot of yarn in my stash that I have completely forgotten about. I'd like to do more shopping from my stash in the future. I'd also like identify yarn that I will likely never do anything with and help it move along it's way into a place where it will get used. Seems like that would be easier if I had an inventory to help me keep track of my yarn. I'm about 2/3rds of the way through this project. So I think success is a possibilty.

On the long term goal side, I've decided to set two, one related to my personal life, and one related specifically to knitting. The personal one is a simple, but important one. I want to end every day with a clean desk. I don't know what it is, but a cluttered desk really clutters my brain. In order for me to accomplish anything, I need to clean my desk. Since I work from home and I also like to design at my desk, I decided that it is time to get my act together and just make it a goal to clean up every night before I go to bed. At some point, there will be photographic proof of this behavior. But it does require that I take the task on tonight...

The knitting goal is also a simple one (and one that I've had before). I'm going to work on clearing out some lingering projects. Either I'm going to finish them or rip them. The project I'm going to start with is a project that I started this time last year: the Stained Glass Scarf from Handknit Holidays. This scarf is for John and it's gotten pretty darn cold here in Chicago and my sweetie needs a little more insulation. This scarf stalled mostly because spring started to approach and the double knitting seemed to be taking an interminably long time. It's not hard, it's just tedious. So I've decided that I'm going to put this one in my hand bag and just work on it whenever I get a few spare minutes. I'm not going to get stressed about finishing it any time soon, but I am going to try to make some slow and steady progress. The fabric is wonderful and the yarn is nice to knit with, so it's definitely worth completing this one.

My progress so far?

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Not Much to Show for a Year's Worth of Knitting

Now I'm off to start cleaning up my desk!

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