June 2009 Archives

And Then There Were Two...

... sleeves, that is.  I've finally finished the second of Lotus' sleeves and got them both blocked.  All that remains is some seaming and a good bit of crocheting before this sweater becomes a reality.  I've slipped the completion deadline back a little bit because John has decided that for his birthday dinner he'd rather go someplace where he can have good Belgian beer than someplace where he has to dress up.  So now my finish date is sometime before we head to Kauai for a vacation (date still to be determined, but likely in July) because it seems like a sweater that would be very happy sipping Mai Tai's and watching the sunset over the ocean. 

Waffle Warp

I like dressing my looms.  I know a lot of people find the warping part of weaving to be tedious and time consuming, but so far, I'm finding it to be something I enjoy.  Really, when you are a weaving newbie in the process of warping a loom, you have to devote your full focus to the process.  Hands and brain have to move together to keep track of how many ends and how the heddles need to be threaded and the reed needs to be sleyed.  It is a very nice way to push other issues aside.  To me, it feels meditative.

20080602_StripedCottonWarp.jpgMy rigid heddle loom does not require quite the focus that the 8 harness table loom I am using in my class takes to warp, but it still requires some attention.  Some time ago I bought some "self striping" cotton "Sugar 'n Cream" with the intention of using it as warp and weft in some project to see how the warp and weft stripes would interact.  If you want to have a striped warp but are feeling kind of lazy and don't need complete control over where the stripes go, this yarn is something you'll enjoy. 

20080602_WaffleWeaveCloth.jpgI'm all about waffle weave these days, so I was pretty excited when I found that I could do a 5/2 waffle weave usng my rigid heddle loom and just one pick up stick.  This pattern is very similar to the one that I am doing on my classroom loom.  One nice thing about working in thicker yarn is that it is easier to see the details of the weave structure without getting out a magnifying glass.

20080602_WaffleWeaveCloseUp.jpgIn the warp, given the end length I chose (which I did not measure out, other than to set my warping peg such that I got three-four ends per each color) I have 3 to four threads of each color.  In the weft, I am getting about 2 waffle intervals per color.  My warp is sett at 8 ends per inch. 

This is a very simple pattern to execute on a rigid heddle*.  The pickup stick is easy to set up and the pattern is done in 10 pick intervals, and the order of moving the heddle is easy to remember, so it's very easy to get a nice rhythm going.

I am not 100% sure what this project will end up being.  Depending on what happens to the fabric after I wash it, it could either end up as another dishtowel or perhaps some kind of runner somwhere  (it's a bit too wide and rustic for a scarf).  It could also probably be folded over on itself and become a pillow covering if I wanted it to.  One of the things I love about weaving is that you don't have to be absolutely sure what you want to do with a piece of cloth to enjoy making it!

* if you want more information on how to do this pattern, please refer to Betty Davenport's Textures and Patterns for the Rigid Heddle Loom which has a wealth of pattern and texture information for the rigid heddle loom.

Eye Candy Friday

The first peonies of the year are always cause for eye candy, I think.  This is the first peony in bloom in my garden this year -- from a plant that I put in the ground about 2 years ago in celebration of he coming of our baby daughter.  This plant has definitely adopted the "bloom where you're planted" motto, because it has tripled or quadrupled in size since it was transplanted into our front yard. There must be 20 or 30 big white and pink flecked blooms ready to burst out right now.  With so many flowers to come, I may be able to harvest a few to come inside to enjoy -- something I've never been able to do before.

This lovely flower is not the only lovely flower that is blooming in my midst. 

20080604_ZAtThePark.jpgThe baby who was celebrated by the flower is well on her way to being a little girl.  At just past 22 months, it is getting harder and harder to see any of the baby.  But I can hardly complain.  The little girl who is emerging is an incredible treasure and surprises me every day.  Who new that she could climb up the ladders at the park that led to the tallest slides and that she was brave enough to go down the slide  on her own?   She remembers words like nobody's business and can now clearly express herself in complicated sentences.  She has only one "speed" -- flat out run.  She loves butterflies, owls, riding on her father's shoulders and all of her grandparents.  Just recently I got my first "I love you, Momma" -- and given her facility with language, I know she means it.  She loves to explore everything and wants to know how everything works.  She's an excellent car traveller, so much that we're considering a big trip to an island in the Pacific Ocean this summer.  When I think about the fact that this time last year she wasn't even really walking yet, she just amazes me even more. The older she gets, the more she makes my heart sing.  Momma loves you, baby girl -- even if you aren't quite a baby any more.

Seaming is Believing

Seaming a sweater is a process.  Sometimes it is a journey.  Always, for me,  it is a time of hopefulness.  It is a time when the knitting is done and I start to wonder what all my knitting effort is going to turn into.  As I've gotten to be a more experienced knitter, I go into the finishing process with more comfort that "everything will turn out all right".  My technical finsihing skills are much more polished now than they were over 10 years ago when I first learned to knit.  I understand how to block a piece of knitted fabric. I understand what a selvedge is and how to use it. My mattress seams are lovely and even.  I understand the process of setting in a sleeve and have a good understanding of how to minimize bulk in the seams.  I can weave in ends so that they are hard to see.  But there are still always the little things that get you worried.  Things, that even if all the technical things in the world have been done correctly, might still result in a not-quite-successful sweater... what if I didn't measure myself properly?  What if my gauge was a little off? What if I should have made the sleeves just a little bit longer? 

And there in lies the hopefulness.  The hope that when all the effort it complete, the garment will be one that looks as I envisioned it and makes me look like the walking goddess of the needles that I want to think myself to be.

If anything is a prayer to the knitting gods, it is careful finishing.   It is a detail oriented thing.  Pieces of a sweater that have to fit together must have edges that fit together.  Blocking must be done so as to maximize the shape of similar curves.  Then those edges have to be brought together, and brought together in the right order.  To do this, I have to clear my mind, clear some time and focus on joining edge stitches together neatly.  Almost as if there is no seam at all.  This process takes time.  Often I find that the finishing takes more time than the knitting of one of the major pieces.  Just to get where I have with Lotus is probably 5 or so hours of effort -- and I still have not yet tackled setting in the sleeves.  Something I consider to be the most challenging part of the finishing to make look neat. 

For this project, though, I will probably delay setting in the sleeves until after I work the crochet border.  I have decided that that border will be worked in the round and it goes around the entire outer edge of the body of the sweater.  The sleeves will likely just make that process harder, so I will sew them in after the edging is complete.

The finishing of this sweater has had another purpose for me as well.  It has helped me get ready for another journey.  Last week, we were doing some decision making on our vacation for the summer.  We were just about to sign the agreement for the most perfect beach house on the northern shores of Kauai, when things started to happen... vacation took longer to approve than expected, family health issues came up.  Suddenly that beach house that I could visualize lounging in and in front of started to feel as if it were farther away. It occurred to me that I had promised myself that Lotus would be ready for that vacation.  In a way that only a knitter can, I decided that lack of garment completion was the issue.  Perhaps the fact that I was not focused on getting the sweater finished was causing our vacation plans to get unfocused as well.   I decided to begin to dedicate more time to finishing Lotus.  After the shoulder and side seams were in place, the vacation got approved, the family health issues resolved enough for us to be able to feel okay about leaving the mainland for 2 weeks.  And we signed the paperwork on the beach house.

Seaming is believing, my friends.  Seaming is believing. 

Double Weave Sampler

What, might you ask, is that strange looking thing in my picture?  It's a sample that I made to play with double weave and waffle weave in preparation for a bigger project to make a bolster cover. 

If you're thinking that it is an item looks like it has been beaten with an ugly stick, well, I'd agree with you.  It's a solid white warp with whatever random colors of the right "gauge" were available in the workshop where I weave.  But the point of this project wasn't to be pretty -- it was to try some things out and see how they worked and to find out how much shrinkage I would get after I washed the cover so that I could make sure that I had the right dimensions for the bolster.

If you learn more when you make mistakes, then you could say that I learned a lot on this project -- definitely making it a good use of my time. 

First of all, I didn't quite thread my heddles correctly -- but I did thread them in the same pattern throughout, so at least I was consistent.  And depending on the colors for the warp and weft that I end up going with, it might have been a fortuitous mistake. 

Next, it took me a few tries to get my treadling worked out correctly.  First I did one half of the treadling but forgot to do the other half.  Then I had to rechart when I remembered that if I wanted the waffle pattern facing out, I had to make sure that it was facing up on the top cloth and down on the bottom cloth.  And I reversed it yet again, not to correct a mistake, but to see how it would look if the right side of the cloth was on the inside instead of the outside.

After that, there was the moment of realization when I realized that while I had threaded my loom at 28 ep, for double weave, I really need it to be 56 epi -- or 28 epi for each fabric.  But that was partially corrected by using 5/2 cotton in my weft instead of the 10/2 cotton that I started with in the warp. 

By the time I got to the red, blue and green stripes of waffle weave I had pretty much made my way through all my learning experiences and was on my way to playing with color and working on finding the right beat. 

20080609_DoubleWeaveSamClos.jpgAnd, of course, it was at this point that I realized that I wasn't sure I wanted to do my original colors scheme for the pattern any more and that I wanted to set up another small sampler (no double weave this time, just a couple of inches of a different options in my warp).   So I'm going to set up a second sample for my next project using the actual colors I purchased to use in the bolster before I get started on the main project.  I have discovered that I really do like working with the 8 harness table loom that I am on -- a Woolhouse 8 Shaft Carolyn table loom.

Even though this is still just a sample, I found myself much more motivated to work on this project than on my original sampler.  I guess I'm not only a product knitter, but a product weaver as well -- I like having an end goal in mind.  It helps me focus my thoughts better and helps direct my experimentation.  I can hardly wait to sit down and warp the loom again to play with my color sample.  One of the things I like best of all about weaving is that the color play is so different than it is with knitting, spinning or quilting.  And I love learning a whole new way to think about color!

Me Time, No Time

As a newbie weaver, I still get to spend lots of time making mistakes.  I thought I would have some lovely pictures of my next bolster sample to show, but I didn't even make it out of the room with my heddles threaded tonight.  Learning experiences, though valuable, do not good blogging make.  I've made no progress on Lotus that is visible.  The Dragon of Happiness is not to a point yet where it is interesting to photograph (though I am on row 35, I think.... not even 10% of the way along yet).  And my simple sock for TV knitting is still a little early to post about. 

So that leaves me to scavenge ideas from other creative bloggers.  So I'm stealing an idea from Claudia, who borrowed it from Carole -- and I'm going to share my "10 Favorite Things to Do During Me Time".  So here it goes.  These aren't in any order other than the order I am remembering them in -- I'm fickle when it comes to having favorite things to do.

  1. Knit.  I know this comes as no surprise, and certainly this blog wouldn't be here without it.  I don't knit as much now as I did before Ms. Z came along, but I certainly still spend a fair amount of time with my needles.  I think I am much more particular now about what I knit since my time is more limited.
  2. Eat out.  I regularly toy with the idea of having a food blog to record John and my adventures on the Chicago dining scene.  There are few things I enjoy more than a good evening out in a new restaurant kicking back with good food and an adult beverage. 
  3. Weave.  Weaving is rapidly beginning to take over space in my crafty brain.  It requires a good deal more planning than the other fiber arts that I love, and that engages that organizational part of me that doesn't normally get much air time when I craft.
  4. Read.  Mostly this is right before bed to help me clear my head and relax.  Right now I'm reading Jim Butcher's latest installment in his Harry Dresden series, Turn Coat (I started this series when I was on bed-rest and continued it through being post-partum and beyond -- it's easy reading, fun and allows me to indulge my guilty pleasure love of fantasy fiction).
  5. Computer Role Playing Games.  Oh yeah.  I haven't really met too many of these I don't like.  I've always wanted to cast spells in the real world, and these games let me do it in an electronic ones.  My favorites are the ones with good stories, but I've been known to enjoy a straight out dungeon crawl every now and again, too.
  6. Quilt.  I haven't done this in a while, but I love the way I can immerse myself in color with quilting.  I just upgraded from Electric Quilt 5 to Electric Quilt 6.  And my sewing machine has been calling to me lately.  It might be time to get back to doing some of this.
  7. Spin.  My poor wheel!  She hasn't seen any action since last summer.  I think the fact that I feel rather overstocked with yarn has reduced my motivation to spin.  But next week I'm going to take her to weaving class with me... perhaps that will get the juices flowing again.
  8. Surf the Internet.  I'd be lying if I didn't admit to loving just grazing through my RSS reader or my favorite web comics.  And, yeah, I do like to Twitter.
  9. Make Myself A Latte.  When I am home with Z on Thursdays, no naptime is complete unless it is kicked off with a home made latte.  I like making them for myself, I like making coffee drinks (or hot chocolate) for others as well.  It is probably time for me to move beyond my mostly automated espresso machine...
  10. Shop.  Yeah, I have to admit, I don't mind doing this.  Especially when it is internet enabled.  Or focused around shoes and handbags.  And having a baby girl makes this activity doubly fun when she's involved.
I wish I could put some exercise related thing on there, but, the truth is that I don't have some really physical thing that I love to do all the time. I do try to walk whenever and wherever I can, but I'm not sure I put it in the category of something that I do for fun.  And I would love to bike more, but I don't consider my neighborhood particularly bike-friendly. 

Do you have a top 10 list for your favorite things to do? 

And Lotus Continues

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My knitting labors this weekend were all about Lotus. 

20080614_LotusAndSomeBorder.jpg As it turns out, it takes longer than I expected to crochet all the way around the edge.  I got things started and am almost through the 5th row of 10 -- which sounds impressive until you realize that the next 5 rows are much more complicated and take a lot more time than the lace that provides the foundation.

20080614_LotusCrochetBorder.jpgSimplicity, however, does not take away from the loveliness that is the foundation for the big flouncy border lace. 

It is not difficult to convert this flat crocheted border that is sewn on after the fact to a border that is crocheted in the round and attached to the garment.  I started at the back of the neck (but you couldn't really tell at this point except for the yarn where I started) because I know that any differences will be almost invisible because of my hair.  For the first row or so, it does take a lot of counting -- because you do have to figure out how to end up with enough of those lacework openings to create an even number of the big flouncy repeats.  I started by doing a row of slip stitch all the way around the edge to provide a foundation.  I counted as I went so I knew how many stitches and then I worked things out to have an even number of repeats -- I ended up with one more repeat than called for if the edging was crocheted flat.  This was another reason that I wanted to do the edging in the round.  While I got stitch gauge on target, my row gauge was a little compressed.  This meant that I got a few more rows to reach any given measurement, and that good stitch counts for the border would be slightly different than originally designed for.   Also, when I did Audrey, I knit the border separately and attached it -- and I never really liked how the joined area looked.  Here you can see that the edge is quite nice!

So now it's just a matter of keeping plugging away until I reach the finish line.  I have no doubts that a few more "in progress" discussions will be the subject of future posts!

Yipes! Stripes!

I have developed a "thing" for Knitterly Things -- which is to say that I am really enjoying knitting up these socks with one of Julia Vesper's "Wee Skein Sock Kits" (you can find more about the exact colorways here in this post.) These kits are fun because you get 4 color ways of her self-striping yarn, each with exactly eight repeats that you can divide up over a pair of socks however you want.  With this one, I started at the toe and knit two repeats of the first yarn, two of the second and so on until I started over again just past the heel.  Since I am determined to use 4 repeats in each sock, I am going to have something closer to knee socks than regular socks for me, but what could be more fun than stripey kneesocks?

The hand of this yarn is quite lovely, and, as you can see from the picture the colors are quite vivid.  As I knit along, I can't help but be impressed by the fact that someone actually dyed this yarn into so many precise stripes.  I imagine the measuring and other prep work that must have to be done.  This yarn is the sort of yarn where you can feel the creative effort of the dyer talk to you a little bit.  As I knit along (this sock makes for great TV knitting) I can't help but feel a lot of positive energy. 

I'm looking forward to wearing these socks -- and I know that I will wear them even if I finish them in hottest August, simply because of the stripey goodness.  I'm already thinking that I might need another pair of these... perhaps with only single repeat intervals, or with a pattern that biases the fabric back and forth a little bit.

Anyone out there made some stripey Monkeys?

Sample In Blue

Sampling is a good thing.  Sure, you have to go through the hassle and fuss of warping the loom (although I find that this gets easier and easier every time I do it), but even with some of the nice programs out there that help you draft a weaving pattern, there's still no substitute for actually seeing your ideas represented in the actual thread that you plan to bring them to life in. 

This sample actually represents my efforts to look at 3 different color variations in more or less the same weave structure, waffle weave.  However, by the time I got my loom warped and taken care of, I really only had time to adequately explore the first of them, which is represented on the right side of the sample -- the seven bands of solid colored warp sections.   I repeated the same color pattern in the weft (i.e. bands of color in the same order as in the warp) to create the color squares that you see in the first 9 "rows" of squares.  I had hoped that the sold squares would be more dominant and the diagonal bands of solid squares would be a prominent visual, but both to my eye and to the camera lens, those solid squares seem to fade into the background.

At my next class, I'm going to do more with the middle and left sections of the warp (which are either bordered by dark and go to light in the center (middle), or are bordered by light and go to dark in the center (left)).  I know it's a bit fuzzy, but I really like the effect of the dark bordered squares.  I'm looking forward to seeing a few variations as well as the inverse before making a decision about my pillow bolster cover. 

P.S. I'm sorry to anyone who has been having problems with my comments lately. I had noticed some double commenting, but didn't realize that it was symptomatic of my blog software behaving strangely.  At this point, I'm not completely sure how to fix it, but I do appreciate everyone who is persistent about it.  If you do have a problem and have the time to drop me an email and let me know what browser you are using, I'd appreciate it -- given that there seems to be some involvement of javascript, I'm suspicious that it could be a browser version issue.
For the past several years, Claudia and her husband have participated in the a fundraising bike ride for the National Multiple Sclerosis Society.  They get on their big orange tandem and put 100 miles under their wheels to help raise money to help find a cure for MS. As many of you know, my academic background is in immunology, and MS is a disease where the immune system attacks, inappropriately, the neurological system, resulting in a variety of unpleasant symptoms, including pain, paralysis, blindness and the ability of the MS sufferer to live the life they really want to live.  I knew several people who were supported by grants from the MS Society and towards the end of my doctoral work, I was even involved in some research to better understand the disease and how it can be modulated. 

Last year, Claudia's ride raised over $40,000 for the MS Society.  That's a big number -- and it shows the power of what can happen when a bunch of us come together to help support a good cause.  What, you might ask, can $40,000 buy?  The MS Society is known for their wise shepherding of the funds that they raise, and they keep their overhead low. $40,000 is the NIH mandated base salary for a post-doctoral researcher for a year.  And that means that $40,000 can go a long way towards supporting a trained researcher in pursuit of trying to understand some aspect of this disease. 

I know this is a tough year for many people and that many of us don't have any or much extra discretionary income, but if you are in a position to participate, I hope you will consider giving Claudia and her team your support against this disease this year. 

Dreaming of Color

While I am working my way through the last of a forest of cream colored stitches, hoping that I can will my way through the last very long row of the crochet border of Lotus and still have time to get the sweater assembled before leaving on my island vacation, I am dreaming of a little color.

20080622_VesperYarn.jpgI am not quite finished with my first Vesper sock, but that could not stop me from finding a bit more to add to my stash.  The lovely pinks, purples and yellow of the appropriately named "Jelly Bean" colorway will become stripey warm leggings for a little girl, come fall.  Simple tubes with ribbed openings, I know the colors will delight her.

20080622_VesperWeeSkein.jpgThe mini-skein kit is destined to be another pair for me, but configured differently.  After taking these pictures, I was struck by how well these 4 colorways go together.  I can't tell you why I think so, but I think Julia's got incredible color sense.  I can easily imagine how these striping yarns will play together.

20080622_VesperWeeSkein2.jpgPerhaps they will come to the island along with me?  I am just beginning the process of thinking about what projects I will bring along.  My goal is to travel light, knowing that I always over estimate how much I am motivated to work on while I am listening to the waves roll in.

Japanese Crochet Books, Part I

My office has moved from Chicago to Arlington Heights. While I am still adjusting to this transition I was pleased to discover when we first looked at the space, that the building we were considering renting in was across the street from Mitsuwa, a large Japanese market that includes a reasonably sized bookstore.

I'm a newcomer to Japanese craft books, but the more of them I see, the more inspired I get.  The first time I visited this store, it was clear that knitting was a big theme of many of the books.  But on this trip, if number of books represented is any evidence, crochet is taking off big with Japanese crafters.  The crochet edging on Lotus has gotten me thinking more and more about how the craft can be used. I realized that I'm not really interested in crocheting garments, but I am interested in housewares and accessories.  And I found three books that really knocked my socks off.   Since I wanted to share a few pictures of the contents, I'm going to divide my "review" of these books into three parts.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyBook.jpgThe first book that I picked up and really got me inspired was this one, subtitled in English "Crochet Lace Doily" (ISBN 978-4-529-04590).  Frankly, doily patterns were just about the last thing I thought I'd be inspired by, until I started paging through the book and saw some very contemporary lacy doily stylings in some very contemporary contexts.  While there are some more traditional patterns, these definitely aren't what you'd expect to find on your grandmother's dresser.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyEx1.jpgThis doily would show itself extremely well around Danish modern furniture.  All the color comes from the use of variagated thread.  It would be easy to imagine a set of these used as fancy dress up placemats for a special occasion as well.

20090625_JapaneseDoilyEx2.jpgThis is one of my absolute favorite designs in the book -- styled for use as a curtain.  I could see this hanging in my kitchen window and I think it would pair well with the stainless steel and granite in our modern looking kitchen.    This one is definitely on my "want to try" list.

While I didn't take any photos of the pattern pages (I don't want to do harm to anyone's copy right) I will say that I don't think you need to know any Japanese to work from them.  Instead of written out instructions, these patterns are illustrated using the standard symbols that you see in Interweave Crochet and other US crochet publications -- and the back contains a complete pictoral dictionary of the crochet stitches.  The illustrations are excellent, so with this book in hand, you probably wouldn't need to tote around another book, if, you, like me, are still working on building your crochet stitch memory banks up.

I've been thinking about how I want to travel light on my coming vacation.  This book, a couple of small crochet hooks and some fine cotton thread could be a perfect recipe for that.

Lotus, All Laced Up

The lace border for Lotus is now complete.  (Well, all but the one row of pink edging that I don't think will take any time compared to the last row of the main motif).  Since we're leaving for our vacation on Kauai on Friday, I'm clearly cutting this one a little close*.  It will be interesting to see at what point I am sewing on those sleeves.  But at least all the hard work is done.  I spent the evening feeling rather pleased with myself and treated myself to an interchangeable set of tiny gauge crochet hooks (to take with me on my trip) that I can use to test out those Japanese doily motifs.

I remain somewhat curious as to how the final fit of this garment is going to be.  Even with all that lace, when I tried it on, the edges just touch over the bust line.  Given that this sweater is not really meant to be closed in front, I don't think it's a big issue (especially since the rest of the shaping and sizing looks good), but I was hoping for a little more ease, given that the small size should be about 36" around. 

Please send motivation for setting in those sleeves.  I know how to do it and can even do it reasonably well, but it always takes a lot of good knitting mojo to get me started!

* I plead guilty to a bit of descent into adolescent OCD when I discovered that all the issues of a favorite graphic novel series of mine from high school, ElfQuest, are now available online.  Instead of knitting I've been re-reading and reading for the first time the issues that were published after I went to college (I never had a car, so I never really had an opportunity to regularly seek out a comic book store like I could in Ann Arbor.  I warn you, should you be into fantasy fiction, that should you take a trip over there, you might not come up for air for a while.  I don't know why, but ElfQuest really pulls me out of my normal headspace and holds me in its zone.  Getting away from it is like waking up from a really vivid dream... it takes a while.

And for anyone interested, that lovely bit of color sneaking into the picture with Lotus is my newest, very fab handbag.  I am in love with this darn thing -- and not just because strangers come up to me and ask me about it -- I bough it because it's big enough to carry my stuff and some kid-related gear and it doesn't look like a "mom" bag.