Recently in Projects Started 2009 Category

An "A" for Aspinwall

While I've been busy thinking about play area redesigns and diving into my Kindle, I've been getting a little bit of knitting in as well.  John has been playing Mass Effect and I figured there was nothing more appropriate than working on a sweater for him, while he played a game that was entertaining me.

20100110_AspinwallProgress.jpgWhen last I talked about swatching for this project, I indicated that I was having problems getting gauge.  In the end, I just decided that to get the row gauge required, the fabric would be too stiff and would likely consume way too much yarn.  So I settled on the 4.00 mm needles that the designer suggested because even though I didn't get row gauge (fewer rows/inch than suggested), I had a fabric that I liked.  And,all things considered, I decided that having the right fabric was more important than adhering to a strict gauge measurement, especially since the general instructions for the half brioche stitch section work out to "knit straight for a certain number of inches".  I did end up knitting about a half an inch more to compensate for lost length when the fabric is stretched to gauge, but that was easy enough.

I enjoyed knitting the two color band a great deal.  And it was even more rewarding for me when John took a look at it and said "hey, I like that"  (translation: I might actually wear this sweater).  I'm also very pleased with the way the colors work against the main colorway that I selected.

20100110_AspinwallDetail.jpgClearly, it needs to be blocked out a little bit.  Even once that happens, though, because the yarn is a a slubby yarn with a inconsistent "diameter" this pattern will still look a little more uneven than if I was working in a differently milled yarn.  But I think that the rusticity of the yarn adds a bit to the masculinity of the garment, makes it a little more comfy and casual, which fits well with John's aesthetic.

The sweater is worked in the round up to where the sleeves are joined.  Then the sleeves are worked and connected to the body to build the yoke of the sweater (it's kind of a bottom-up raglan construction).  Last night I cast on for the first sleeve.  Of course, even though I thought I had every size DP needle available, it turns out that I didn't have 4.00 mm needles.  A quick trip to the yarn store solved that problem (if you got Vogue Knitting this month, you can see a little article on Nina's) and got me on my way.  Of course, I didn't pay attention and the US 6 needles I bought were 4.25 mm instead of 4, but since it was only 2 inches worth of cuff knitting, I didn't see the point in worrying too much, especially since John likes looser cuffs anyway.

Beyond the status discussion, I am really enjoying working on this garment.  The half brioche stitch is an easy stitch to work with, the yarn has wonderful hand, and the colors are rich and saturated and very nice color therapy for the Chicago winter. The fabric is soft and friendly and I can tell John will enjoy having this fabric against his skin. I have also been pleasantly surprised to find that the deep red yarn does not bleed... in the past, I've had yarns in this color range be a little leaky, so it's nice not to have this yarn rubbing off on my hands.  It's also nice to be focused really on just one garment at the moment.  I promised John that he was going to wear this sweater before it started getting too warm out!

One Little Sock

20091110_LittleBambooSock.jpgWhile I consider the issue of buttons (right now, it looks like it is going to be either all black or all red, since I didn't find any other buttons that I liked when I went out button shopping today) and finish sewing down the button hole band and edging the button holes in buttonhole stitch, I'm working on a second pair of socks for Z. 

The yarn is "Sensations" Bamboo and Ewe Pattern (I believe Sensations is the Joann "house brand"). The yarn is 55% wool, 30% nylon and 15% bamboo rayon.  The yarn has a nice hand, and I thought the colors were bright and cheery and perfect for a kid sock.  So far, I haven't identified any clear pattern repeat, so these socks are going to end up fraternal -- which I don't think will bother Ms. Z.

Little Kroy Socks

20091101_KroyStripesLittleS.jpgPattern: The Keyboard Biologist's Basic Toe Up Sock*
Yarn: Patons Kroy Socks Stripes in "Mulberry Stripes"
Needles: 2.5 mm Darn Pretty DPs

On my last trip into Joann Fabrics, I took Ms. Z back into the yarn section.  While Joann's is not my usual locale for yarn shopping, lately I've been surprised to find some pretty decent yarn tucked in and amongst the acrylic.  In something that I took to be a show of remarkable education on Ms. Z's part, she ignored most of the fuzzy acrylic stuff and got very excited when we came to a patch of self-patterning sock yarn.  Since she had been good the entire trip to the store, and since the yarn was on sale, I told her that she could pick two skeins (all of the last batch of socks I made for her are now too small) and I would make her socks. 

The Kroy was the first skein she grabbed at.   The yarn is 75% wool, 25% nylon and is a little thicker than most sock yarn that I knit with (but not by much), so I cast on to US 1.5's instead of my usual 1's.  It's not completely obvious from the picture, but these socks are almost exactly identical twins.  It was nice to knit with, and I got a very nice, warm, thick fabric, perfect for baby feet.  At this point, Zosia just barely wears a size 7 child's shoe, so socks for her are still a quick knit -- especially in this yarn.  Because the yarn is a bit thicker, there's a bit less in a 50 g ball.  I'd estimate that this little pair of socks used up about 2/3rds of the skein. 

She was very excited after the first one was finished -- and then a bit disappointed that she didn't have two to try on.  So I cranked the second one out as fast as I could.  She got them on Thursday, and they've been on her feet more than they've been off since then.

I think the patterning in these socks  is quite nice -- almost wouldn't mind having a pair myself.  But the real proof will be in the washing and wearing to see how the yarn and the colors hold up. 

I've started on the second pair... baby socks seem to be like potato chips for me!

* Magic cast on, 8 stitches.  Increase 4 stitches every other row until 40 stitches around.  Short row heel down to 8 stitches, straight stockinette leg, about an inch of K2P2 ribbing for cuff.  Stretchy bind off.  



While a whole  lot of lucky knitters and spinners are heading off to Rhinebeck this weekend, I'll be staying here in Chicago and checking out a much smaller fiber show, YarnCon.  What YarnCon lacks in the presence of live sheep, it makes up for by being practically within walking distance of my house. But don't think that I won't be a little jealous of all those heading to NY -- though that jealousy will mostly be over getting to see fibery friends rather than getting to indulge in fibery consumerism.

In addition to YarnCon (which should be doubly fun, because I hope to be heading there with Julie), since the weather is likely to keep us indoors this weekend (what, I ask you, happened to the gentle entry of fall?) I suspect my needles will be in motion.  I cast on and got started with Elijah this afternoon, and last weekend, while heading out to our pumpkin patch experience I picked up my second Francie sock and made some headway on that project.  The other thing I did today was start to work out the design for my next pair of socks for John -- these socks are going to be my first foray into designing with twisted stitches, which I think will be just the perfect amount of patterning for the lovely cashmere blend Sophie's Toes.

In lieu of actual knitting photos, I have a few pictures from our trip to see the pumpkins.

20091015_Pumpkins.jpgI just loved the way those green squash looked with the pumpkins.  They were just the perfect sagey color contrast to the bright orange.  Definitely not a pair of colors I would have thought to put together, though!

20091015_MeAndZ.jpgAnd here is rare photo of me and Z -- riding a toddler sized train and both wearing our handknits. Z has on (and she actually requested to wear) her upsized "Baby Surprise" sweater and I spent the whole day cozy and warm in my cotton turtleneck and OWLS sweater (which I love).  The Owls are rapidly becoming one of my favorite go-to cold weather sweaters! 

Otto Begins

Much is in progress now, little is finished.  Otto came with me to Marble Falls, and I had hopes of getting a little farther.  I got bogged down on the head shape.  In Ysolda's lovely picture, Otto has a fine rounded snout.  In my version, he looks a bit like one of his parents might be some kind of large, beaky bird (which is why the yarn tail is still hanging down from the side of his head instead of trimmed off... I suspect that I may take out a row or two in order to give him more security in his parentage). From what I can see in Ravelry, this is not a particularly unusual problem and a number of knitters have shortened his nose.  I didn't really knit any kind of gauge swatch for this, so some variation from the intended doesn't surprise me.

As with Sophie, the pattern for Otto is written well and has excellent illustrations of all the challenging bits.  Ysolda's patterns are definitely well worth her asking price -- she really goes the extra distance to make sure you have a high quality experience with her patterns, IMHO. 

Otto will definitely be on my "to do" list this weekend -- after all, I still have one more toy to get started!


20090909_Sophie.jpgPattern: Sophie
Yarn: RYC Cashsoft Baby DK in "Cloud"
Needles: US2.5 (3 mm) bamboo double points

Labor Day weekend was a lovely one for me.  A nice weekend with my family and plenty of knitting time while the kiddo enjoyed time with her grandparents and a whole array of new toys and books.  I, of course, brought about 12 more projects than I could possibly work on. And the only projects that actually saw any new stitches added were the Dragon shawl and Sophie.

Sophie is a lovely little knit -- and doesn't take that long to work up if you're dedicated.  I finished almost all of her in Ann Arbor (and the only reason she didn't get finished on the ride home was because I got drawn into a game of Civilization Revolution on my iPhone -- and it's almost as addictive as the desktop version).  She's constructed out of RYC Cashsoft Baby DK in the colorway "Cloud" and stuffed with polyfill so that she's washable.

I really love that the toy is made as one unit, with additional body parts added by picking up and knitting stitches on existing parts.  So much nicer than knitting pieces individually and then trying to sew them together neatly.  One full ball got me the head, body, both arms, both legs and about 1/3 of the way through the first ear.  And I used a little bit from a second ball for the rest of the first ear and the second ear.  I'm thinking that after I finish all three toys, I'll probably have enough left overs to put together a patchwork animal for Z.  Who kept coming up to me and letting people know "Momma is knitting!" and "That's a bunny!"

I was much lighter on the stuffing than I have been in the past -- I wanted my Sophie to be soft and squishable and easy for little hands to grasp.  This also had the side-effect of not distorting any of the body shapes in  bizarre manner.  And I absolutely love the final resul. 

The thing I was most worried about with this project was the French knot eyes.  French knots and I, generally speaking, do not get a long.  But we worked together just find on this project.  Must be the good karma that comes from knitting for a baby.

Overall this pattern was easy to follow and the instructions, including the images guiding the picking up of stitches, were quite good.  I think Otto will be next.  But not before I cast on for Ms. Z's second Zebra Striper sleeve. Can't forget my own baby as I'm knitting for someone else's!


This yarn, Lang Jawoll, was a lovely gift I received when I hosted the Audrey knit-a-long.   Since then, I've pulled it out several times, because I love the reds an purples and yellows and the regularity of the colors in the skein made me think that there might be some interesting patterning in the sock.  But, one thing always led to another: I acquired more yarn, I became fascinated with handpaints, I got focused away from sock projects.  So this yarn sat and sat.  It was my "back up" yarn when I went to Kauai.  Of course, I didn't finish the main project I brought, so, once again, this yarn almost went back into my sock yarn stash.

But before I put it back, I gave it a long hard look, and realized that I just had to know what this yarn was going to turn into.  And so I decided that it would be my next couch sock project.  No special details, just my standard old toe up sock with a short row heel.

20090804_JaWollSockToe.jpgI'm not sure exactly what I expected this yarn to do, but it definitely has different character in the sock than it does in the skein.  So far, it looks like that yellow and purple band is going to wind it's way around the sock, alternating with the reddish band. 

Not the self-patterning yarn I was expecting, but the colors blend well.  I don't have a pair of bright red socks, so this will be a good addition to my sock drawer, not to mention that this yarn is 75% wool and 25% nylon, so it should be durable as well as bright!

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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?
Dear L,

When you have a little brother (I know, I know, "little" is no longer an accurate adjective), you often wonder what he is going to do when he gets older.  Will he stop being annoying?  Will he ever wear another color besides black?  What career path will he pick?  Will he find a good person to spend his life with?  In the case of my brother, he did eventually stop being annoying (I think he was around 20 at the time), he did stop wearing black (and even surprised me by being open to striped hand-knit socks), he became a chemical engineer (of course, the engineering part was never in doubt, but he left us on the edge of our seats with the chemical part.... how many times did he take a stab at organic chemistry?) and he most certainly found a very special person to spend his life with.  I know that anyone who knew and cared about my brother was happy when you agreed to share his life.

Knitter that I am, I've always wanted to knit something special just for you as my way of saying that I'm glad you're part of our family.  Yes, I know I knit you the dragon scale socks (in honor of your love of dragons), but I while I loved designing them for you, somehow they've never seemed like quite enough. I know that at one point we sat down and discussed felted handbags.  My brother reminds me of the fact that I still have not produced a bag on a yearly basis (he's definitely looking out for you!), and while I wish I could make good on the promise, the right inspiration just hasn't hit me.  And if I can't get inspired, I have almost zero chance of accomplishing a fibery project. 

But this year has been such a big year for you -- in November you brought my beautiful nephew into the world, and you've had to face more than your fair share of challenges in his almost 6 months with us.  I wish we were closer (Houston is so far away) so that we could be there more often to help, and that Ms. Z and Mr. C could get to know each other as they grow up.  In lieu of being there, I like to think that this is the time when a hand knitted gift could be a bond, a reminder that somewhere in Chicago, there are people thinking about you and your family.  And thus began the start of my inspiration.

I hope you won't be disappointed that it's not a felted bag. I still have not found the mojo for that project.  I have always thought that your love of dragons is very symbolic of your personality: strong, powerful, wise, protective of those you care about, and not afraid to breathe a little fire every now and again when you need to get something done.  It is these dragons that have been the source of my inspiration for something special for you.

20080510_DragonStart.jpgToday I started your Dragon of Happiness shawl.  The yarn is a delightful alpaca, silk blend (Alpaca with a Twist, Fino) that is soft and rich, the color is a deep raspberry burgundy (selected with a bit of consultation with my brother).  It will be knit on size 1 needles -- all 115,000+ stitches (there are 230 stitches on that needle in the picture and there are more than 500 rows).  When it is finished, it will probably be one of the magnum opi of my knitting career.

I have gone back and forth on whether I should keep it a surprise.  In the end, I decided that I could not.  I am sure some will think that I am going public just so that I can blog it (and there may be an ounce of truth in that), but the biggest reason is that by declaring my intentions publicly, I'm making a commitment to to you and the project.  I have no idea when it will be completed (it is a project that requires focus and not every day brings me the opportunity to apply myself that way).  I hope that you'll enjoy seeing it grow.  

Happy Mother's Day, Dragon Momma!

With much love,


Fuzzy Pink Baby Socks

Since today is Ms. Z's 21-month-iversary it seems only appropriate that she should make it into this post. She's in a wonderful developmental sweet spot right now where she is absolutely lovely to be with.  The kind of baby that makes you want to make things for her.  And so over the weekend, I discovered the kind of yarn that I can't imagine in my own wardrobe, but is just perfect for her: Regia Softy.  Happy soft fuzzy sock yarn that knits up a fabric almost as soft and fuzzy as her blankie. 

20090416_FuzzyPinkBabySocks.jpgAt first blush, this yarn looks a lot like standard Regia sock yarn, just with soft fuzzy bits.  However, it is much happier at on larger needles than you m ight expect.  These little socks were knit on 3 mm double points and were only 32 stitches around.  I  did two stripe repeats for each sock and I think I have at least one full repeat left on the skein.  I purchased a second skein in a different colorway, but this is the one she picked, so it's the one i started with.  And a perfect colorway for a slightly-belated Easter present, I think!

20090416_FuzzyPinkClose.jpgThe texture of these socks reminds me of Muppets.  Soft, fuzzy, almost fleecy.  Ms. Z likes to pet them.  Heck, I like to pet them -- and the yarn, too, even if I wouldn't wear it on my feet.  These socks are the first pair of socks I've knit for her where I used my "adult" template that doesn't include any extra gathering in just above the heel.  She doesn't try to take her socks off any more and her little body is transitioning past the baby shaping into little person shaping. 

I had no problems convincing her to wear them, but, couldn't, for the life of me, get a decent picture (at least not in the time I had before work).  She loved them even if I couldn't capture that love well.  They aren't good for playing on slick surfaces, but they are great warm snuggies for quiet play.

Pillow Talk

Here is what I did with some of my recycled Banff Manos yarn: it became the warp for the "Piping Hot Pillows" in Liz Gipson's Weaving Made Easy: 17 Projects Using a Simple Loom.  It's meant to be a simple project where you experiment with varigated yarns in different combinations as warp and weft.  Because I wanted to maximize my yarn, I decided to make both pillows using the Manos (in the colorway Thistle) as my warp.  Choosing a weft yarn was more challenging as I had lots of skeins that were the right weight and would have made an interesting counterpoint to the Manos.  In the end, I decided that I wanted to find a striping yarn (i.e. Kureyon or Silk Garden) that complemented the Manos so that I could get more color into the project without having to work very hard. 

20090414_BothPillows.jpgThe weft yarn that I ended up choosing was a single skein of Big Kureyon that has been languishing in my stash.  Originally I think I purchased it to become a felted cat bed, but I could never get myself excited about knitting up Kureyon for my cats, so it sat there in it's center pull ball, looking sad whenever I saw it. As it turns out, it was just waiting for this prioject.  I had just the perfect amount of yarn to make the two 17 inch pillows.  And I think the striping worked out amazingly well.  The pillows aren't completely matchy-matchy in stripe sequence, but the striping isn't visually discordant, either. 

On each end of each pillow there is an inch of hem that I wove using a bit of Lavold Silky Wool.  This piece won't end up visible, which is almost a shame because it had such an interesting texture agains the Manos.  Just goes to show that even things that you don't think will really work sometimes turn out to be really good combinations and that you shouldn't automatically dismiss anything when you are playing with color.

20090414_PillowHemStitch.jpgEach end of the pillow weft  is secured using a hem stitch, which took me a few minutes to get the hang of, but once I did was kind of fun and made a lovely edge.  I left that tiny gap to give myself a place to cut, but the way it turned out is so nice looking it makes me want to use it in an actual garment somday. 

20090414_OnePillow.jpgI liked this view of a single pillow because it showed off not only the colors of the Kureyon (and how they played agains the dark Manos warp but also the variagation of the manos in the weft as well.  I think it has an interesting water colory effect... or like someone washed or wore away ares of color in the fabric.

The pattern suggests fulling before sewing and finishing and sealing in the pillow.  I am not sure I will full all that much, but I definitely will finish the fabric by giving it a good wash -- it's not really as soft as I might like for pillows.  But before I get to that I need to make the "piping" that's the hot part of these pillows -- from what I can see in the pattern, it looks a bit like the weaving equivalent of i-cord. I figure if I'm going to do any fulling, I should probably do both the pillow fabric and the piping together. 

For anyone who might be considering this project, after you get your loom warped up the weaving is over pretty quickly -- it doesn't take very long to weave 16" of pillow fabric when there are only 6 picks per inch.   It's an interesting way to experiment with variagated yarn and simple color combinations in plainweave -- and could be a nice way to use up a couple of solo aran weight skeins that you don't really know what to do with!

Lusting for Lotus

It has been a long, long time since I have picked up a knitting magazine and found a garment that I absolutely positvely without any hesitation must start knitting right this moment no matter what the cost or how small the needles.  So long, in fact, that I can't even remember the last time it happened.  But the minute I saw the cover of the new Rowan (Rowan 45) I knew that I must have that sweater now! And I had the yarn ordered from the UK less than 24 hours later.

Lotus lotus lotus.  I am obsessed with this sweater now.  So obsessed that when I discovered that it is knit on 2.75 mm (US Size 2) in cotton yarn it didn't cause even one iota of concern.  Yes, friends and neighbors, this is an adult woman's sweater knit at 7.5 stitches/inch in yarn with no elasticity.  And my only disappointment is that I do not appear to have a suitable circular needle in my collection on which to swatch. 

What would make a normally sensible knitter throw caution and her credit card to the wind (although, to be fair, with the current dollar/UK pound exchange rate the credit card was not unfairly exercised)?  It simply is meant to be my sweater.  The bell sleeves, the feminine shaping, the perfect amount of ease, the incredible crochet edging.  In this case, the fine gauge is a benefit, just adding to the delicate nature and sophistication of the garment.   This sweater could easily go to a wedding, a fancy restaurant or even just to work.  When I showed it to John, Hey, that's a really nice sweater.  You should make that.  And one final thing: when I look through all the sweaters I have made, my Rowan sweaters have been the ones that I am most proud of and like to wear.  They are often more work (and this one is definitely a "3 yarn ball" design) but I don't think I've ever felt like my work has been wasted.

The gauge would have been daunting to me 5 years ago.  But the longer I knit, the more I realize that there are really only a finite number of sweaters that I can own, wear and enjoy regularly, if only because at some point I will run out of places to store them.  Not only that, but I also am finding that as I get older, I become less and less excited by sweaters and garments knit with yarn heavier than DK weight.  I like the finer resolution of details and lower addition of bulk that comes from finer yarns. Finally, I just have less time to knit, so I really want every sweater I make for me "to count".  This sweater will likely take me some time, but if I hold myself to exacting standards for construction and finishing, I feel that I really will have a sweater that I will love and wear. 

The sweater is knit with Rowan Fine Milk Cotton, which is a new yarn to their line and which is composed of 30% milk protein and 70% cotton.  The yarn feels like nice cotton, soft and smooth and just a touch silky.  Just as inelastic as you expect cotton to be -- the milk proteins give it better hand, but don't give it any stretch -- at least not that I can tell before knitting it. 

I'm hoping to find that pair of 2.75 mm needles today so that I can get swatching and get knitting.  No matter how much optimism I have, there is only so much time, and I think it would be ever so nice to be wearing this sweater when I take my husband out for his special birthday dinner in June.

Overall, I think this Rowan is one of the better ones in my collection.  There are actually two mens sweaters that John would consider wearing and the colorwork is not all that crazy floral intarsia that they sometimes get crazy with. Several of the sweaters in the collection with Lotus also caught my eye.   There's also a huge shawl that is so gorgeous that it is making me want to renege on the promise I made to myself never to knit detailed lace in Kid Silk Haze ever again and is getting me to consider other yarns I have stashed to see if they would fit.  I think of all the recent knitting magazines I've gotten this is the one that won't just end up ignored in a magazine box.

Spring Dishtowel Cotton Warp

It's time for another weaving project, don't you think? 

There's a long story about the process of getting this warp onto my loom, but I'll sum it up by telling you that I put this warp on twice and that I always learn a lot by making mistakes.  And I'll definitely never make the mistake of not putting a layer of something between rotations of warp threads.

20090312_CottonWarpBehind.jpgWeaving is an opportunity for all sorts of "McGuyvering" -- to separate the warp threads on the warp beam, I bought 12 foot of clear vinyl floor runner from the Home Depot and trimmed about 2 inches from the edge so that it spanned the entire width of my loom.  An unanticipated benefit is that I can take the unwound part and pull it over the top of the loom so that it has a cover.  

But, enough with the strange little details.  What am I actually warping my loom for.


I would almost never consider knitting up dishtowels (not because I have any issue with the idea of knitting dishtowels or wash cloths, but because it takes a long time and I like to use my knitting time in other ways), but weaving is another story entirely.   I purchased some Sugar and Cream in what I thought were springy colors and designed a warp that I thought would be fun to work with from the perspective of playing with plaids.  And then I got to warping.  The towels are destined to be 14 inches wide and roughly 28 inches long, but I think the lengths are going to end up somewhat variable, because while I started out thinking I was going to make 4 towels that were exactly the same, I ended up deciding (after making the first one), that life is too short and that I wanted to play more with my loom, so I'm using them all as an opportunity to sample color and weave effects.

20090312_CottonWarpClose.jpg Of course, every project is an opportunity to play with my camera.

One thing I learned in my weaving class that I thought I would share is this tip: start your weaving after you've rolled your warp knots past the front beam and have all the warp threads lying flat on that front beam.  This will start everything off levelly and help you identify tension problems..

20090312_CottonWarpReadyToR.jpgAll ready to go!  That header is a little wonky, but all headers are for is to spread out the warp threads evenly and to give you a level place to start from.  Full steam ahead for dishtowels!

There's a lot to be said for just jumping and trying things.  There's also a lot to be said for taking advantage of the wisdom collected into books by people with a better understanding of the subject.  For my second project, I took extensive advantage of the information in Liz Gipson's Weaving Made Easy -- a collection of projects all based around the rigid heddle loom and meant to help newbies like me get started and get excited about weaving.

First off, for anyone who is thinking about getting started with a rigid heddle loom, I highly recommend this book.  It is definitely not a bible to all things rigid heddle, but it has just enough information to get you off and running and to help you create a polished project.  And the projects, while simple are actually the sorts of things you would want to make for yourself.  She does a nice job of balancing the kinds of projects.  While there are a number of scarves, there are also pillow covers, a belt, placemats, a couple of bags, an obi, a table runner, felted coasters and even felted slippers.  Each project features a different kind of technique and helps the new weaver get their feet wet with regards to both the weaving process and terminology.  With a couple of exceptions, she also focuses on the kind of yarns that a lot of knitters are likely to have in their stash already, making this a doubly nice book for the knitter who is interested in learning to weave.

Make no mistake, I think the most difficult thing about weaving, for me, so far,  is the technical jargon that comes along with it.  I know the language of knitting and spinning, but weaving comes with a whole new set of terms.  Frankly, I can completely understand why this particualr fiber art may have more appeal to men* -- setting up a weaving project and working with loom equipment starts out feeling very technical, almost like you are embarking on some engineering project.  This book does a great job of de-mystifying the terminology.  It defines weaving terms well, and then uses them without overwhelming you with them so that you feel confident and excited about learning a new language rather than baffled by it all. 

Perhaps the only thing I would have liked to have had more of in this book was more discussion of how varying color in the warp and weft has an effect on patterning.  And, thus, that was I decided I wanted to explore more with my next project.

The project I decided to riff off of in the book was a pattern for a simple hounds' tooth check satchel.  It means warping the loom with two colors and weaving with two colors.  So the first thing on my agenda was to pick those two colors.  I knew that I wanted to work in wool for my next project, that I wanted a scarf I could enjoy and that I wanted two colors with fairly high contrast so that I could see clearly what the pattern I was creating looked like.

To find the yarn, I went stash diving (I'm really making an effort right now not to increase my stash as I learn to weave since I have plenty of "unintentioned" yarn to work with) into my Cascade 220 stash and came out with a skein of "Quattro" that falls into the "orange/pink/red" region of the spectrum and a heathery purple skein.  Ideally, the ends per inch (i.e. the number of warp (or vertical) threads per inch) should be about 1/2 the wpi of the yarn.  However, since I only have one heddle, and it's a 10 dent (epi) heddle, I didn't actually bother to do that calculation.  The reality is that the 8 dent heddle probably would have been more ideal for the Cascade since it's a worsted (some say light worsted) weight yarn, but sometimes a girl's gotta run with what she has.  I was hoping that since Cascade is on the light side of worsted that using the 10 dent heddle wouldn't result in a fabric that was too "boardy"**.

I decided that I wanted my scarf to be about 8" wide and 60" long*** -- and after doing the calculations for how much warp and weft I would need, it was clear that 2 skeins of Cascade 220 would have enough yardage for what I wanted to do as long as I used an equal amount of each color in the weft.

After that, I warped up the loom (while enjoying the afternoon with Julie) and got started.   

20090219_SamplerScarfBegins.jpgOne thing I knew from the get-go was that I was not going to do 5 feet of hound's tooth check.  In addition to using this scarf as a project to focus on making my selvedges even, I wanted to use the scarf as a chance to see what patterns I could get from different numbers of picks (weft threads) of each color in combination.  I started with a header of all purple, followed by 4" of the hound's tooth (2 picks of orange followed by 2 picks of purple, etc.).  After that, I tried out a bunch of different combinations, all of about 4" and each separated by a section of the hound's tooth.

The picture above shows the header and the first bit of hounds's tooth.  Pretty neat, eh? I loved watching those first patterns grow.   It probably shouldn't be any surprised that I had that loom warped by Friday night and pretty much had a finished scarf by Sunday morning.  I've got quite a few detail pictures from my sampling, so I'm going to save the final reveal and pattern discussion for Monday to give myself more time to put together a nice post.

* This is not to say that I know what ratio of male to female weavers there are, just that I can understand why it is easier to find more male weavers than one might find male knitters or spinners.

** Of course, if I'd been paying more attention to the second book I bought (which I will talk about in the future) I would have realized that I could have just used 8 out of each 10 slots in my heddle to achieve the effect of having an 8 dent heddle... but sometimes it's hard to learn too many lessons in one project.

** I'll spare the gorey calculation details, but I ended up with 86 warp ends (42 orange, 44 purple) each at about 92" long.

Getting Warped for the First Time


There might be some that would argue that I was a little warped long before I ever got a loom, but today I'm going to share my first experience warping my Flip.   A wiser person than I might have waited for the nice books she ordered before getting started, but I just couldn't wait to get started, so I cracked open the little paper manual that comes with the Flip and got started.

One of the benefits of having been a newbie knitter when it comes to being a newbie weaver, is that you are bound to have some yarn in your stash that you don't really like, but, for some reason, you haven't bothered to give away or sell.  In my case, it happened to be 4 skeins of sport weight acrylic yarn (actually an acrylic/nylon blend) that I thought would make nice socks for John (because of the color) before I realized that acrylic socks would only result in John having sweaty cold feet.  While the yarn is not so good for socks, it seemed like good starter loom yarn because I figured the tensile strength would be good in a warp (warp yarn spends its time under a fair amount of tension), it was the right weight for my 10 dent heddle, I had enough in one skein to make a reasonably wide warp, and I thought that I would turn my manly colored yarn into a manly colored runner for John's night stand.

Warping, so far as I can tell, is time consuming and requires that you have some higher brain function available (by which I mean focus, not the ability to do integral calculus in your head), but is not hard.  One of the big contrasts between knitting and weaving is that getting started on a project takes a little bit more thinking and a lot more time preparing.  Casting on 300 stitches for a two color sweater in the round takes a lot less effort than getting a loom warped.  I did some basic back of the envelope calculations (assisted by the Flip manual) to know how many warp ends I could get out of one skein of my yarn and figured out where to start warping based on my estimated width.

20090215_Warping1.jpgWarping a loom takes one of two things: a warping board or a warping peg.  Both are the mechanisms by which you measure out a specific length thread to tie onto the loom to be your warp.  The reason to use one or the other seems to be related to both personal preference and how long you want your warp to be.  I suspect that the peg method would not work so well for very long warps.  But given that I do not have a warping board and I didn't really want a very long warp, I followed the instructions with the Flip to use the peg.  This involves mounting the peg the desired distance from your warp beam (the beam in the back of the loom) and then pulling loops of yarn through the slots in the heddle, alternating pulling the loops over and under the warp beam.  This method also saves you from having to tie the warp threads onto the warp beam, so I suspect that it not only saves you time, but also helps keep the tension on the warp more even.

20090215_Warping2.jpgThe next step is to do something that, as a knitter, is pretty scary to me -- you pull the loops off the peg and cut right through them so that they go from being loops to warp threads.  To keep them from getting out of control, you tie the ends using an overhand knot.

20090215_Warping3.jpgAfter that, it's a simple of matter of winding the warp onto the warp beam (the beam in the back) separating each layer of warp threads with paper.  I opted for baking parchment paper because I had it available and it came in a roll -- making it easy to control the flow of paper.    As you roll the warp threads onto the warp beam, you have to stop now and again to pull tightly on the threads to make sure they are tightly wound onto the warp beam. 

20090215_Warping4.jpgYou wind the warp on until you can undo the knot and still have enough yarn to tie the warp ends onto the cloth beam (the beam at the front of the loom).  Then you untie the not and get ready for the main event.

20090215_Warping5.jpgUsing a hook that looks a lot like a latch hook for a rug or a thin crochet hook, you take one of the pair of ends in each slot in the heddle and thread it through the hole in the plastic piece next to it.  You get to do this until all the ends are individually in either on of the slots or one of the holes in the heddle -- this is what is going to make sure that you raise and lower alternate threads for the weaving.

20090215_Warping6.jpgThe final step in the warping process is to tie the warp ends to the cloth beam.  This is easier than you might think, since you do it in groups of about 1" worth (10) of warp ends and then use a simple knot to tie the ends to the beam.  You start in the middle and then alternate back and forth to the right and left sides tying on groups of ends.  The knot used is adjustable so that you can adjust the tension on the warp ends as you go: if the tension isn't adjusted correctly, your final fabric will be wobbly.  After the tension is adjusted the way you want it to be, then you tie the ends in a bow knot (like the bow you use with shoelaces) so that it's easy to untie them after your project is done.

20090215_Warping7.jpgAnd that's pretty much it for warping.  Everything is tied on and you're pretty much good to go -- except for one thing: your warp ends aren't spread out evenly. (You can see how they're bunched into groups in the picture that shows them tied on).  To spread the warp ends out evenly, you need to weave a header.  At the end of the weaving, the header is removed, so it doesn't really matter what yarn you use for it, as long as it isn't too different in size from the yarn you are going to do your main weaving with.  I decided to use some of the yarn I was planning to use for the project since it was convenient.  And I like convenient.  Weaving on the header involves placing a few weft threads ("picks") onto the warp, and then beating them all down together.  I did a few more after that just to get the rhythm of using the heddle. 

20090215_Warping8.jpgAnd there it is, al ready to go, with the heddle in the neutral position.  As you might imagine, I didn't stop there, but I think I'll stop here and talk about the finished product in my next post.   It might take a while to get that warp set up, but getting to the finish line for a weaving project is amazingly quick compared to what it would take to knit a comparable sized length fabric (using appropriately sized needles -- I know that knitting goes fast when you use big yarn and tree trunks). 

Handspun Surprise

The start-itis just keeps on acting up around my house.  This time, I'm going to blame Emily for mentioning that EZ's Baby Surprise Jacket pattern has an "Adult" version as well -- and that that version explains how to vary the jacket depending on size and yarn gauge.  I've wanted to knit Z a Surprise Jacket with a very particular handspun yarn that I have in my stash, but the pattern as written doesn't come with information for sizing it up or down (other than varying the yarn used), and since my yarn was DK weight (or less) I was pretty sure that the Baby pattern would result in a sweater too small for my kiddo.  The adult version, however, provides the details for sizing the pattern based on your gauge and the width of the sweater you need to make, so I ordered the leaflet from Schoolhouse Press and when it arrived I through all will power to the wind, found the yarn, made a gauge swatch and got to the business of taking care of the simple calculations needed to get started.

20090208_CottonCandySwatch.jpgThe yarn is a two-ply handspun made out of hand-dyed Corriedale roving in the colorway "Cotton Candy" from Crown Mountain Farms (note: I don't see this colorway on the website anymore -- if you wanted to see what it started out like, you can find it here).  This is the little garter-stitch swatch I made 5.5 sitches/inch on US 4 needles (selected because they were the smallest set available in my Harmony interchangeable set and I couldn't find a set of US 3 needles ).  I liked the fabric density and thought it would be good for a spring baby sweater, so I decided to roll with it.  You'll notice that it stripes, but that the color runs are pretty short.   Not ideal for  this pattern which really shows of stripes to their advantage, but this yarn has far too much yellow in it to be for any garment I would ever wear.

With the help of EZ's pattern recommendations I used the gauge and my final desired width of 12" (based on a 2T size jacket that I have for Z for the fall) to determine the number of stitches that I needed to start with.

20090208_SurpriseJacketForZ.jpgIn spite of the many stitches I had to cast on, this project is just whizzing by. I've finished the initial decreases and am now working on the increases after setting aside some stitches for the collar (or what I think is the collar, I have to admit that my orientation on this sweater is poor -- even with all the pictures out there).  The picture above is just before I started increasing again.

Even though there's no distinct striping pattern, I'm pleased with the way the fabric is turning out.  It's more or less random, but little bits of striping show up here and there.  I'm thinking that the Kureyon  and Silk Garden sock yarns might be nice made up into this pattern -- assuming that one was willing to consider completely unwashable yarns for a child.   In fact, though, this is the one place where I am making something completely impractical for Ms. Z -- this yarn is most definitely not superwash, and is definitely a light color.    I guess I'm just going to have to be prepared to do a little hand sweater washing when it's done.

3 Swatches for o w l s

With a baby daughter who is uncannily aware of owls, it is perhaps no surprise that I should be keeping my eyes out for sweaters featuring her favorite bird.  I received a couple of great suggestions through the comments on my blog, and that got me swimming through Ravelry and googling about for sweaters featuring owls.  Originally this quest was to find something for her.  But then I came upon a pattern, sized for an adult woman, that I simply couldn't resist:  o w l s by Kate Davies.

Kate has kindly made the pattern for this sweater freely available.  And the more times I looked at it, the more I knew I had to have it.  Knit in the round from the bottom up in aran weight yarn,with feminine shaping and a yoke of cabled owls.  A perfect winter sweater addition. Especially since I had the perfect yarn in my stash (a yarn purchased many moons ago on sale and which I just *had* to have -- but which I had no idea what I would do with) ready to roll.

20090129_ChunkyShetlandEide.jpgThis is Jamieson's Chunky Shetland in the colorway "Eider Duck".  It looks grey, but it has lovely flecks of red and blue that give it more depth than your average grey yarn.  Definitely owl-y, I think.

The only challenge was to swatch in the round.  Rather than truly knitting in the round, I knit square swatches and after each row, slid the swatch back to the left hand needle, drawing a length of unused yarn along the back so that all the rows were knit, as if I was knitting in the round. 

20090129_3SwatchesForOwls.jpgAfter knitting each swatch, I cut the yarn bridges in the back and soaked the swatch in water with a little Eucalan to make sure the yarn had a chance to do anything it might do upon making contact with water.  Then I let them dry flat.  The top swatch was knit on US 10 needles, the middle swatch was knit on US 10.5 needles and the bottom swatch was knit on US 11 needles*. Of course, with the top two swatches I got the right row gauge but my stitch gauge was too "narrow" and with the bottom swatch, I got the right stitch gauge (3.25 stitches/inch), but my row gauge is off by a bit (4.75 stitches/inch instead of 5).  If I was on my own, I would probably choose the tension of the second swatch (I think it's a little better for the long-term wear of the yarn), but the swatch on the US 11/8 mm needles is not all that bad, and the extra stretch/looseness in the fabric will probably be better for a sweater that is meant to be close fittting, but is also made out a yarn that while nice, is unlikely to work directly next to my skin.

By amazing chance, I not only have the circular needles I need, I also have the right sized double points as well (from my felting days) -- which is good, because I think I'm going to start with a sleeve, just to be sure that my gauge holds up in a larger piece -- since we all know how disingenuous swatches can be. 

Anyone else out there knitting the o w l s?  What yarns are you using? 

*As an aside... does anyone know why the US needle numbering system does not include a 7 mm needle?  A 10 is a 6 mm needle, a 10.5 is 6.5 mm and an 11 is 8 mm. 

Schaefer Socks

I am making slow progress on several projects right now: the Rivolo Scarf, the Zebra Striper Sweater, my Silkie Socks, the Three-Ply Targhee Blanket squares.  And I even repaired the hole in John's second Mudslide sock.  As I was working on the first of my Silkie socks I had a moment of clarity where I realized that while I like all my complicated projects, I really just wanted something simple to knit.  Something I could knit on autopilot.  Something that I could get started on after going shopping in my stash.  Something unequivocally for me. 

For the answer to the first item, the best possibility seemed to be socks.  Just a pair of simple stockinette socks using my standard toe-up pattern.  For the yarn, I decided that I wanted to knit a pair of socks from yarn that was not 100% merino in composition so that I could (hopefully) count on many years of care-free wear.  Originally I was thinking of the skein of Austermann Step that I have in my stash, but then I discovered the ball of Schaefer Anne (in a colorway whose name I do not remember and could not identify from looking at the Schaefer website) that I had purchased to try out a pooling scarf pattern in a long ago IK -- only to discover that the way this particular skein was dyed was not conducive to getting it to pool the way the pattern was supposed to.  The yarn was already wound into a ball, ready to go.  And since Anne is a wool, mohair, nylon blend, I figured it would definitely create both durable and warm socks.

20090125_SchaeferSockToe.jpgI started out this project on US Size 1 needles (2.25 mm) but the yarn was just too fine and the fabric seemed a bit to open, so I ripped it off those needles and cast on to size 0's  (2.0 mm).  It's been a long time size I've had a set of 0's in my hands, but they were the right needles for this yarn -- in fact, I bet I could have kit on 00's and also gotten acceptable fabric.  What I found interesting was that the final number of stitches after I increased was 64 -- which is what I usually get on larger needles -- so I'm getting a gauge of about 8 stitches/inch.

I can't say that I adore the pooling behavior of this yarn, but it also doesn't bother me a great deal either. The colors are very evocative of peacock feathers.  It has a high sheen (due to the mohair I am sure) and the sock fabric is soft and light weight.   About the only real complaint I have is that the stuff is prone to splitting -- especially on 2.0 mm needles with sharp tips (these are also Darn Pretty Needles  --  when I purchased them, I took advantage of the special pricing they had for a full set of sock sized needles).  But this is also not too suprising given the yarn's component fibers.

20090125_SchaeferSockVertic.jpgThis has turned out to be exactly the project I needed.  Simple, colorful, quick and stashbusting.  A nice reminder that sometimes a project doesn't have to be complicated to be good for the soul.

Alpaca Meditation

Several Christmases ago (I cringe to think how many it actually is, so I will leave it at "several")  I had been unable to think of a good present for my aunt.  My solution to the problem was to take her to yarn store and have her select some yarn that she really liked and I would turn it into a scarf for her.  This, I thought, would be easy.  There were so many great yarns, so many potential patterns, I would have a gift knit up in no time.   It would still be a little late for Christmas, but it would be handmade, and I knew my aunt appreciated handmade gifts. 

When I was in high school, my aunt lived in southern Colorado and had a couple of llamas.  Later on in her life she was married to a guy who worked on an alpaca ranch.  She developed a knowledge and love of our favorite South American fiber-bearing creatures long before the current explosion of interest in both the creatures and alpaca yarn.  So it should have been no surprise to me when she selected a skein of "Baby Twist" (in the jumbo format of 549 yards!) from Alpaca with a Twist in the "Bark" colorway.  Baby Twist is a 100% baby alpaca yarn.  To say that it is soft is damning it with faint praise.  The fondle factor for this yarn is incredibly high.  Certainly, of all the alpaca yarns that I have worked with, it is probably the softest and least "picky" that I have ever encountered.  I could probably wear it against my skin.

I was certain I was going to convert yarn into scarf quickly, so as soon as I got back from Michigan I converted the skein into a ball and set it on my desk, waiting for inspiration to strike me. 

And there it sat.  It has gone with me on a couple of vacations, never to be touched.  It's been cast on and ripped out a few times.  Finally it got stuck into the stash for a few years after I re-organized my stash closet, and I forgot about it until my stash migrated from the closet in Ms. Z's bedroom (which was originally my fiber room) to our basement guestroom, which was recently enlarged and which is on its way to becoming my fiber haven.  When I found it, I decided I couldn't in good conscience let it get buried in the stash again, so it came back up to my desk again.  To wait.

This time, however, the wait was not so bad.  I was sorting through the bookcase in my bedroom when I came across the Rivolo pattern that I had purchased along with a merino/tencel blend yarn that I purchased from Briar Rose Fibers.  I had one of those light bulb moments and ran back to my desk and looked at the weight and estimated gauge of the yarn.  Absolutely perfect.  I did a little dance, and with 15 minutes left in the naptime I was enjoying, I cast on.

You might wonder about the wisdom of working a lace scarf pattern in a slightly fuzzy slightly marled alpaca yarn.  I did.  However, after a few repeats, I stopped wondering and just kept looking forward to knitting.  The experience of knitting with this yarn is incredibly pleasurable.  As far as hand goes, this would have to be one of the nicest yarns I've knit with.  While the picture above hardly shows off the lace,  I think it has a great deal of potential.  This scarf is not going to look at flashy as it does with a handpainted yarn, but I think it's going to block beautifully.  I think it will also work well for my aunt.  The selection of a soft brown yarn fits with her well.  It looks practical but has a hidden quality that only the wearer really knows about.  I think the lace will be like that as well.  It may not be as obvious in this scarf, but it will be a little bit of extra beauty that the wearer willl know about and that will not detract from the warmth of the scarf. 

The pleasure of knitting with this yarn has allowed me to do something that I rarely do: knit from the "process" part of my brain instead of the "product" part.  Normally, my goal is to knit as fast as I can and get to the finish line and enjoy the finished product.  But with this, I'm enjoying the feel of knitting so much that I'm trying to knit just one repeat a day so that I can appreciate the feel of the yarn a little longer.  It gives me a short time to just pause and reflect and bask in the tactile joy of the craft. This means that my aunt will have to wait a bit longer for the scarf, but given my current track record, that extra time will hardly be too significant.   

Socks that Grawk


20090112_SnowyDay.jpgOn Saturday, about halfway through the afternoon, we already had about 6" of snow accumulation and the clouds above Chicago showed no sign of slowing down.  Going out to do anything in weather like this didn't have a lot of appeal, so we had a long, grey day to spend at home.  A good day to get caught up on house chores, like laundry, which resulted in the discovery of this:

20090112_SadSocks.jpgSad, sad socks my friends.  The sock on the right is the mate of the sock I repaired for John not too long ago (good thing I still have some Mudslide yarn left).  The sock on the left is one of the socks made out of my handspun "Hang on Sloopy".  Both earned a big sigh.  The second Mudslide sock I expected to have to repair sooner rather than later (the trip through the washer and dryer just must have been too much agitation for those weak fibers) but the handspun sock had had no obvious signs of such imminent hole-age.  I was contemplating which to take on first when John reminded me that part of the reason his socks get so much "love" is that he just doesn't have enough thick hand knit socks -- and that weather predictions for Thursday suggest that the temperatures might not break 0 F.

20090112_STRHGrawk.jpgThis left me to think about knitting priorities.  And whether I could give myself a little challenge to heat up what is likely to be a week of cold snowy weather.  I am always looking for man-friendly yarn to stash.  The good people at Blue Moon Fiber Arts have a nice line of colorways called the Raven Clan, which are essentially black yarns "enhanced" with colors as part of a color study.  What's really nice about these yarns is that they have beautiful color undertones to appeal to the knitter, but these undertones are subtle enough to appeal to the color-conservative male in my house.  This full-skein picture of the yarn gives you a good idea of how the color reads when you see it from a distance.

20090112_STRHGrawkMacro.jpgWhile this macro shot shows off the nice purple and olive undertones that show up when you look close or get the yarn into brighter light.  As man-friendly yarn goes, I think it's really stunning.  And the fact that it is Heavyweight STR meant that it would meet John's need to have another pair of warm thick socks for winter commuting.  The name of the colorway, by the way, is "Grawk"... so, naturally, I came up with a name for the project before I even really knew what they were going to be: "Socks that Grawk".

I like starting new sock projects with a very specific person with very specific wants.  For John, these wants include: 1 ) dark or subtly colored yarn and 2) simple unobtrusive patterns.  He really liked the last pair of socks that I made with the X and O cables up the side, so I thought for this pair I would stick with the cable theme, since that went so well.  But for this pair, I decided that I wanted a little more all over patterning, so I got out an old Harmony stitch dictionary and found a lovely, simple cable pattern that created a wide ribbing that I thought would be perfect.  With the cable stitch selected (and charted), the starting notes entered in my knitting journal (all the project I design myself get recorded here for further reference), some new podcasts loaded up on my iPhone and my lovely yarn converted to center pull ball, I sat near the best light in the house (admittedly not very good) and used the rest of Z's nap time to get the socks started.

By Sunday afternoon (before naptime) this is what I had accomplished -- and I was very happy with both the cable stitch pattern (made so much easier by being able to cable without a cable needle) and the way it worked with the dark yarn.  It knit up so quickly (I worked on a few other knitting projects on Saturday besides this one) that I decided it might be time to issue myself a little challenge: to knit John a new pair of socks in time for that wicked cold weather on Thursday.  By the end of naptime on Sunday, I had turned the heel and knit a pattern repeat past the heel, so I'm optimistic that John could have a new pair of socks by the end of the week.


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