Friday, November 30, 2007

Warmth in the Dark Days

I have never knit an afghan before. Afghans contain a huge number of stitches. They're large and heavy and not something you can stick in your knitting bag and carry along to piano lessons. Their rows are interminable.

I imagined that I might knit an afghan, someday, when the children are grown and I have plenty of time to knit and no one in particular to knit for. I'd have plenty of time to work on the long rows and contemplate the meaning of eternity.

Some years ago, my parents brought us a blanket from the Lake Country in England. It lives in our living room. In the winter months, it's in constant use. You can drape it over your lap and knit or read cozily. You can lie in front of the fire and wrap yourself in it. You can wrap it around your body and walk around the house when it's freezing outside.

We have only one such blanket for a family of 6.

A couple of months ago, I noticed that our blanket, the perfect winter blanket, is becoming a little worn. It still has a few good years left, but, at some point, it will wear out. What will we do then?

A fire was lit beneath my feet.

I started thinking about knitting a replacement blanket. I had 8 skeins of Peace Fleece worsted in Tundra, a color that reminded me of the blanket. I sifted through pattern stitch books for a suitable pattern. I measured the existing blanket.

I cast on 276 stitches and began knitting in my favorite Moss Diamond pattern.

After working one skein, I realized I needed twice as much yarn as I had. Amazingly, Peace Fleece still had the same dye lot. I also ordered some Glasnost Gold for the fringe.

The pictures were taken after knitting one full pattern repeat and just over 2 skeins of yarn.

The fringe makes me think a lot about weaving in ends, but that's another post.

Intarsia versus Duplicate Stitch

When I last posted to this blog, I was feverishly knitting the last part of a pair of Cherry Hill socks for my 15-year-old daughter's birthday. I finished the socks and presented them to her on her birthday, along with my pair of Sidewinders. She's a child who truly appreciates hand-knit items, and she rubbed them against her cheek in ecstasy before putting them on her feet.

Socks done, I was able to return to the cat pullover for my son.

My older daughter and older son usually request some kind of intarsia design for their sweaters.

I don't love intarsia. For one thing, I like to knit in the round, and the convolutions required to knit intarsia in the round are labyrinthine. For another thing, I'm not wild about floats. I once had a knitting machine that double-knit the floats into a reversible fabric. That seems a neat way to handle color patterns. Floats are clearly an inferior solution and yet I'm not quite up to double-knitting jacquard patterns by hand.

My son and I came up with the idea of a band of cats alternating with purple flowers for this sweater. I charted the design based on a cross-stitch pattern and resolved to use duplicate stitch and backstitching for the motifs.

I like it. The knitting went quickly. The duplicate stitch did not go quickly, but it's a pleasant enough process. The results are clearly superior to intarsia, both from the right side of the fabric and also from the wrong side. There's no gaps or pulling, no heavy floats distorting the fabric.

The duplicate stitch also adds a nice texture element, a depth to the motifs that you don't get in intarsia.

The cats will have bead eyes and noses, but I haven't put them in yet.

This sweater has a round yoke. I love knitting round-yoke sweaters. I especially like laying the yoke out in a circle.

Monday, November 5, 2007

24 grams to go

Yesterday, I was out and about doing social and healthy things instead of sitting on my rear knitting my fingers off. Once I got home, I had to fold a week's worth of laundry and start dinner before I could sit down to knit. I didn't manage to get my hands on my knitting needles until 6:30pm.

Over the course of the evening, however, I managed to knit up a respectable 14 grams of sock yarn. Only 24 grams to go, plus the top ribbing. I definitely think I can do it.

My younger daughter sidled up to me as soon as I started knitting on the socks and said, "Those would look better on me." Since she says that about everything I knit, I announced to the room at large, "Ignore your sister."

My older daughter gave me a penetrating look. "I read your knitting blog today."

"Then you know all my secrets." I said calmly.

My younger daughter's ears perked up. "I want to read your knitting blog, too! What's the url?"

"I'll send it to you," I said, mouthing the words "on Saturday" to her sister.

I think she suspects something. She managed to snag my Sidewinders yesterday by complaining that she was sock-less. She commented about how beautiful they are and how well they fit her.

I've been weighing my remaining yarn late at night, while she's doing her evening ablutions. How could the mere fact that I've switched solely to these socks give her the idea that I'm planning to give them to her for her birthday?

Saturday, November 3, 2007

20 grams a day

My younger daughter, who covets everything I knit, will turn 15 on Friday. My husband asked her today what she wants for her birthday.

"Socks," she said, her eyes fixed on the Sidewinders on my feet, "nice, warm, cozy, colorful, substantial, long socks."

I thought immediately of the socks on my needles right now, Cherry Hill socks in blues, grays, purples, and aquas with solid blue heels and toes. She'd love those, for sure.

My inner knitter sighed. I've been making great progress on the round-yoked Cat sweater for my older son. I've knit most of the yoke and done some of the duplicate stitch for the yoke pattern. I was just getting into the swing of things, knitting six rounds and then doing some duplicate stitch. A little more knitting, a little more duplicate stitch.

Instead, I picked up the socks. The blue heels and toes, along with blue ribbing at the top of the sock, are meant to stretch this skein of sock yarn to make extra long socks. I figured I'd used about half the yarn, maybe a bit more.

I picked up the socks and started knitting. I knit between exercise sets. I knit in odd moments during the afternoon. I knit while my children listened to Teaching Company calculus and science lectures. I knit after dinner, listening to Says You on the radio. I knit as we watched the latest installment of the BBC Planet Earth mini series.

Early in the day, I weighed the two balls I was using to knit the socks. Before I packed them away for the night, I weighed them again. Each ball was 10 grams lighter.
I have about 20 grams per sock to go, plus the top ribbing in blue.

If I do nothing but knit, I should have the socks done by Wednesday. Even if I live my life along the way, I should still be able to finish the socks for Ms. Sock Magnet's birthday.

Friday, November 2, 2007

From the Top: Rolled Ribbing Necks

I like to start classic crew-necked sweaters with a rolled ribbing neck. The doubled ribbing is cozy, warm, and stretchy. When finished, there's no tight cast-on edge to restrict movement over the head.

To start, I use invisible cast-on over a second circular needle. I then join in a round and knit several inches of double ribbing.

Next comes a single round of purl to make a fold line for the ribbing. This gives a crisper edge to the ribbing. If I wanted a more rounded edge, I would omit it.

Next, and this is the detail that makes rolled ribbing work really well, I switch the double rib pattern so that I purl where the lower section has knits and knit where the lower section has purls. When the ribbing is folded, each rib will nest in a purl valley and line up with the rib that will lie above it.

So, if I worked my initial round of ribbing * k2, p2 *, I work this second section * p2, k2 *.

I then work the second section until it's the same length as the first.

Next, I fold the ribbing on the round of purl so that the first section I knitted is on the inside. I line up the invisible cast-on stitches with the working stitches:

And knit the invisible cast-on stitches together with the working stitches.

I then continue knitting the yoke of the sweater (in this case, a round yoke):

I'll add some short rows after the colorwork in the yoke to make the back neck higher than the front neck.

I could use the same process to make a fold-over ribbed neck, like for a turtleneck. If I was doing that, I'd start with a standard cast-on and change the row of purl to a row of knit so that the the cast-on portion would fold over instead of under. I also might start with more stitches and decrease along the way to flare the fold-over portion.

There are always options in knitting.

Friday, October 26, 2007

Just in Time Design: Pattern Stitches and Shaping

For me, much of the challenge of knitting is in designing the garment I can see in my mind's eye.

I spend a lot of time swatching pattern stitches that end up being less than perfect.

When I find the one that is perfect, I swatch until I really understand the pattern stitch.

My latest project was a Dragon Princess Shell for my eldest daughter. The pattern stitch knit up beautifully, and I could see it in full-sprung glory on my daughter.

When I went to figure out how I was going to shape the sweater, however, I was brought up short.

Here's the pattern:

Dragon Skin
26 stitches

Row 1 and all wrong side rows: Purl
Row 2: * K1, m1, ssk, k4, k2tog, k3, m1, k2, m1, k3, ssk, k4, k2tog, m1, k1 *
Row 4: * K1, m1, k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k4, m1, k2, m1, k4, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1, m1, k1 *
Row 6: * K1, m1, k2, ssk, k2tog, k5, m1, k2, m1, k5, ssk, k2tog, k2, m1, k1 *
Row 8: * K1, m1, k3, ssk, k4, k2tog, m1, k2, m1, ssk, k4, k2tog, k3, m1, k1 *
Row 10: * K1, m1, k4, ssk, k2, k2tog, k1, m1, k2, m1, k1, ssk, k2, k2tog, k4, m1, k1 *
Row 12: * K1, m1, k5, ssk, k2tog, k2, m1, k2, m1, k2, ssk, k2tog, k5, m1, k1 *

The pattern is 26 stitches wide, and the increases and decreases move all over the place! It's not a pattern where you can wing it with the shaping and have everything come out hunky-dory. Nope, this is a situation where your shaping has to be carefully arranged to suit the pattern stitch.

After working with the pattern for a while, it became apparent each pattern repeat consists of a panel of 13 stitches followed by its mirror. Thus, my basic pattern unit is 13 stitches. Each unit starts with k1, m1 and ends with m1, k1. Moreover, rows 8, 10, and 12 are just rows 2, 4, and 6 with the 13-stitch units reversed.

There's no wiggle room in this pattern to insert new units between existing units except in 26-stitch-wide swatches. The cut-outs for the back and front neck, for example, needed to be planned stitch by stitch so that the motifs could be centered and the shoulders begun in pattern.

When I'm increasing at the edge of a pattern, I like to start working in the pattern stitch as soon as possible. With the decreases spaced so far from the increases in this pattern, I was able to start working in the Dragon Skin pattern when I had 7, 13, 20, or 26 side stitches.

Once I'd worked that all out in my head and made hand corrections to my Garment Designer chart, all I had to do was knit.

And, wouldn't you know, it looks like the sweater just grew itself.

The next pattern stitch, however, is one that probably won't make it into a sweater yoke of mine any time soon.

It's a charming pattern. I love what it does with the Malabriga space-dyed yarn.

This is a slip-stitch pattern. I've knit slip-stitch patterns as raglans before, but the increase line and surplus stitches present a lumpy, glaringly colorful problem. This rules out the possibility of working top-down set-in sleeves, too, so I'm left with the option of seaming (which I will do when a certain very warm place freezes over) or a round yoke. This pattern, with its half-offset motifs, doesn't look like it would handle round yoke increases, either.

I could re-design this pattern (like I did with the Racing Plaid pattern to increase the space between motifs and/or not offset them. I could then use a line of Northern Stars, do an increase round, add another round of Northern Stars, and then another increase round. That might be very handsome, but we'll see.

In summary, the pattern stitch puts a lot of constraints on the garment shaping, dictating where and how increases and decreases can be made. The pattern stitch also dictates whether you need a smaller fill-in pattern for increase and decrease areas or not. In some cases, the pattern stitch can require or eliminate a certain kind of yoke or construction method.

Tuesday, September 4, 2007

Toe-Up Thoughts

During a heat wave, it's refreshing to take a little toes-up:

The toes-up socks I've been knitting have short-row toes and heels that are worked exactly the same way. Quite restful, but the questing knitter in me is looking for ways to complicate this simple pattern.

Might I, for example, consider doing a toe-up heel flap? Quite a few folks have worked this out before me, none of them exactly the same way. I could knit lots of socks before I try them all.

I've also been doing YO short rows, just for a change. I find them easier to work in thin yarns on tiny needles, and they no longer seem to leave holes for me.

Hmm. Maybe I'll change to YO short rows for good.

I'm also starting to think and swatch for a knitting project to take to New York. I'm thinking not socks, since all my sock needles are metal. It's a good chance to dust off the plastic Denise interchangeables and give them a chance to earn their keep.

Tuesday, August 28, 2007

Sock It to Me, Baby

If I have an interesting radio show or some cool music to listen to, I can really get in the groove with Kitchener stitch.

I married a man named "Graft," so I ought to be able to swing it.

After knitting the Sidewinders, there were two long and two short grafts to finish them off. Nona used straight stockinette grafts, which I found restful after working grafts in 2x2 ribbing for my Smokestack Lightning scarf.

The resulting socks fit pretty well:

It seems a bit insane to make socks in a way that requires two seams per sock, though. And one that doesn't let you easily tailor your sock length to the amount of yarn you have.

The Sidewinders look better on the foot than off:

The increases don't quite match the decreases.

But the socks themselves match rather uncannily for socks knit of space-dyed yarn:

Definitely a pair.

I like the vertical stripes and the crazy, knit-sideways snakeskin look of the Sidewinders. They are cleverly designed and fun to make, and they fit well.

It was kind of a relief this morning, however, to cast on for a simple pair of toe-up socks. The friendly short-rowed toe snuggled up, and the Cherry Tree Hill yarn just glided through my fingers.

Sometimes a single stitch seems to contain the entire universe. Time opens out, and there's only this stitch, right here, under my fingers. Other times, the knitting seems to stretch away into eternity, rolling through my fingers like fire, stitch after stitch as if they were forming themselves.

Knitting, I am convinced, distorts both time and space to conform to its own reality. Like a foot in a sock.

Flipping Out

Sewing is NOT my favorite part of knitting. One of the reasons I knit things in one piece from the top down is so I don't have to spend a lot of time sewing when I'm done knitting.

In any case involving a zipper, however, there's sewing to be done. As zippers are the handiest things for the fronts of cardigans and jackets, however, I'm doomed to sewing.

To do a zipper correctly, you have to do a lot of sewing.

On this little sweater, there was also the issue of the flipping garter stitch border.

Here you can see the border flipping on the unsewn side and behaving on the sewn side:

And here's a close-up of the misbehaving side:

Contrasted with a close-up of the side with ribbon applied:

And the right side, behaving beautifully:

After all of the sewing for the zipper and the flipping border, I was no longer sure whether the sweater qualified as cute. Or even nice. It was just an endless collection of stitches, knotted sewing thread, and bits to be eyed critically. Is the color of the zipper really close enough to the color of the ribbon and the color of the yarn? Did I do the zipper well enough or should I rip it out and do it again? Is plaid anachronistic for a baby?

The new parents, however, were touched at the sight of a handknit sweater for their beautiful new baby boy.

Wednesday, August 22, 2007

Cuter than Cute

It's all over except the sewing.

The sleeves, knit one at a time, went quickly. Babies' arms are so short that even an avid sleeve-hater like yours truly doesn't have time to get bored. Zip, zip, an hour and a half's worth of knitting, and voila! a sleeve.

I agonized over the hood design. Should it be round or pointy? Should it continue the basic check pattern or break out into something else? I finally decided that babies are so cute in little pointy elf hoods that there really wasn't another option.

The hood zipped right along, too. As I was peacefully grafting the top together with yellow yarn, an idea hit me over the head with a mallet.

"You could knit this sweater from the top down," it whispered seductively, "from the tip-top of the head. Just use invisible cast-on and knit both sides."

The idea charmed and stunned me. Of course I could. Good thing there's another baby welcoming next month; I have a perfect excuse for knitting another darling little baby sweater.

After the hood was grafted, I picked up around the hood and added garter stitch trim to match the body and sleeves.

Sunday, August 19, 2007

I Frogged It My Way

When I first learned to knit, I decided to knit for pleasure. I would never, I vowed to myself, make the mistake of planning to knit sweaters for my entire family for Christmas. I would not knit fancy christening shawls and bridal veils on a short schedule. Bottom line: I would not knit things on a deadline.

What good is a resolution if you can't twist it out of shape? I have found myself feverishly finishing the last pair of mittens for a Christmas stocking on December 23rd. I have woven in ends for my mother's Christmas scarf in the car on the way to her house.

I knit things my way. I seldom knit from someone else's pattern, preferring to do the design and the math myself. I dream and swatch and plan and calculate slopes and curves. Knitting doesn't always work by the numbers, however, and quite often the garment does not come out quite the way the swatches and math suggest.

I do a lot of ripping out and re-doing. It's part of my process, fussing with shoulders and borders and short rows until I have a design that works.

All of this reworking has led me to do Just-in-Time Design. To avoid having to do a lot more work than necessary, I design one section of a garment at a time. I tinker with the design while I'm knitting, and then base the next section of the garment on real measurements and numbers from the garment in my hand.

Since I knit from the top down, this means figuring the yoke first. Once I get the yoke knitted to my satisfaction, I do the numbers for the body.

With the Racing Plaid sweater, my bent resolution combined with Just-in-Time Design to light a fire under my fingers.

The first disaster struck yesterday as I was just getting into the body. As I was juggling three balls of different-colored yarn on my lap, one escaped and landed right in my tea cup. The ball was soaked, and the darjeeling a dead loss.

Fortunately, the yarn was dark green and the tea very light.

I blotted the yarn several times with a thick towel and set it in the sun to dry. As I knit, I pulled the middle of the ball out to finish drying as I knit. Sanity was restored.

As I was minding my own business, knitting the body of the Racing Plaid sweater, I was thinking about borders. How was I going to finish the bottom of the sweater? Ribbing, maybe a fancy multi-color ribbing? A crocheted border of some sort? A snug hem to go around the zipper?

As I knit on, I realized that a crocheted border would not make the edge behave. The combination of yarn and stitch pattern led to very curly edges, and a thin line of crochet wouldn't have enough oomph to tame it.

I don't like a snug ribbing for baby sweaters. Diapers make a baby's butt bigger than his stomach, and a baby sweater can't be too snug at the hips.

Getting closer to the edge, the border came to me: a garter stitch border, made of single-row stripes of each of the three colors in the design. The garter bumps would echo the plaid pattern, and a garter stitch edge would have the strength to tame the edge.

I knit it and it was beautiful. A nice, tailored finish for the almost-woven look of the sweater.

Then I cast it off. The border flipped up, thumbed its nose at me, and said, "Ha ha! You're going to have to rip me out, because I'm never going to behave myself otherwise."

The flipping border struck fear in my heart. There are combinations of yarn and stitch patterns that defy all attempts to put a smooth, flat border on them. I've ripped and re-knit borders as many as five times before giving up and putting a hem in a garment.

I calmed myself. This yarn is not a tightly-twisted bouncy single, but a soft untwisted merino Superwash. The slip-stitch pattern is dense (bad for flipping) and curly (ditto), but the flipping itself wasn't too bad. A single rip, a moderate round of decreases on the border stitches, and another go round should tame it. The zipper would help keep the front in line. And, given my time constraints, I could always resort to a strip of twill ribbon around the bottom to counteract any remaining flip-out tendencies.

Knit softly and carry a roll of twill ribbon.

Saturday, August 18, 2007

Racing Plaid

First, a week-old snapshot of my half-finished Sidewinders. I now have just 12 rows to knit on the second sock, plus the grafting.

The socks will have to wait, however, because I have only a week to finish a little sweater for a new baby.

I decided that I wanted to knit a green plaid sweater. The last plaid sweater I knit was a raglan, and the shaping was a little odd in the slip-stitch plaid pattern. I thought about the possibility of adding some plain color stripes to the plaid pattern and knitting the sweater with a round yoke.

I started swatching sections of plaid with different kinds of stripes:

From the right, I tried a 2-row dark green stripe, a 2-row yellow stripe, and a 3-row medium green stripe. Totally blah.

Then I tried single-row stripes of first medium green, then yellow, then dark green, and then medium green again. Aha. Now that pattern has legs on it.

Immediately, I saw that I could surround 2.5 repeats of the basic plaid pattern with the single-row stripes and get something that sang. I could start with a block of yellow-dark green-yellow-dark green-yellow, add a dark green and then a yellow stripe, and follow with a block of dark green-yellow-dark green-yellow-dark green and a yellow and then dark green stripe. They alternate, and are framed by mirrored alternate color stripes.

I decided to call this new pattern Racing Plaid. Here's a chart of my Racing Plaid pattern.

It was time to cast on and knit the yoke:

And then time to move onto the body:

I'm really like how this is going. I hope I have time to add a hood when I'm done.

Thursday, August 9, 2007

Summer Potpourri

Something old:

Remus John's Dragon Hat and Mittens

I knit these according to Remus John's specifications winter before last. I charted the dragons from a heraldic pattern. The hat has dragons marching all the way around, plain old ordinary every day fairisle. The dragons on the mittens face the thumbs and were knit using my unvented slip-stitch technique for intarsia in the round. Every other round, I slipped across the blue portions and knit a row of the dragon backwards.

Something new:

Finished Peach Vine Pullover

The Peach Vine is finished (except for the label and a good washing). I wore it to The Tempest on Sunday; it's always good for a new sweater to get an airing or two, and the weather cooperated.

Something borrowed:

Half-finished Sidewinders

And two of them are blue!

The Sidewinders are interesting to knit, and very cleverly shaped, but I'm not wild about the spacing of decreases. Putting them right next to one another like that is probably going to make them a bit gap-toothed as the decreases pull away from one another. Leaving a stitch between them would probably look neater.

I didn't agree with the choice of make-ones, either, so I did it my way.

The Sidewinders are zipping along, so I'm hoping that the yarn arrives for a baby sweater I'm hoping to knit. I'm thinking of plaid. The yarn is Knitpicks washable wool in two shades of green and one of pale yellow.

If that fails, there's more sock yarn in my stash.

Tuesday, July 31, 2007

Loose Ends

I'm making good progress on the Peach Vine. I've almost finished the body. There's just the Shower Stitch flounce at the high hip left to do. Here's the last picture of it, taken after I did the bust darts and neck trim.

Whenever I'm knitting, I think about technique and ways to vary or improve the way I knit. One of my meditations on the Peach Vine has been the treatment of loose ends.

When I first started knitting, I dutifully wove in all my loose ends with a yarn needle. For some projects, this meant tedious hours spent weaving in ends. I wove them through the purl bumps or along knit ridges, not knowing about excruciatingly correct duplicate stitch that some folks recommend.

When I learned that I could weave my ends in as I went, I was thrilled. For thinner yarns, I just work two strands together for 6-8 stitches. With anything above sport weight, however, I weave the new strand around the old while I work 6 stitches with the old and then weave the old around the new while I work 6 stitches with the new.

One of the problems with working in washable cotton yarns is the tendency for tag ends to work their way to the right side of the fabric (this never happens with wool). I pull them back to the wrong side with a crochet hook, but it's tiresome.

As I was weaving in a new section of yarn, I thought, "Maybe I should wait to trim the tag ends until after I wash the sweater. Maybe they'd behave better if they'd already had the chance to stretch and shrink before I snipped them."

While I'm at it, I might as well make sure to trim them long enough.

Meanwhile, the two sides of the front of the Peach Vine grew together.

Growing a sweater from the top down is magic. I really like the section where the yoke and sleeves have their basic form but are still one big circle.

It's a little anticlimactic once the sleeves have been separated from the body. The body seems to go very quickly in comparison to the yoke. Aside from short rows and waist shaping, there's little to slow me down.

For the bust short rows on the Peach Vine (I keep typing Peace Vine; maybe I ought to change the name of the sweater?), I decided to do half of them with decreasing short rows and then use increasing short rows for the other half. This makes a nice shape for the bosom, but it makes a sharper short row line than other types of double darts.

I like double darts for the busty; they give room to hide the short row turn-arounds in purl bumps or pattern stitches or the fuzziness of the yarn. This yarn is smooth and light-colored, and shows everything. There's no hiding.

This yarn shrinks in the wash, so the short row turn-arounds should smooth out some.

Just the body trim now and the sleeves. I'm hoping to finish this so I can wear it on Sunday.

Sunday, July 22, 2007

Peaches on the Vine

My Summer Peach Vine pullover is coming together.

I like to knit sweaters from the top down. I started with raglans, branched out into round yokes and yokes picked up from shoulder straps and eventually started knitting sweaters with set-in sleeves from the top.

For the Peach Vine, I used Garment Designer to do the initial math. The shaping instructions that it produces don't seem to harmonize with the way I knit sweaters. After it gives me the chart, I need to interpret it in knitting: simplifying certain shaping elements, changing others to short rows, and making sure that shaping elements that need to fall on a right or wrong row do so.

I haven't decided whether this is less work than doing all the math myself.

I start by knitting the first few inches of the back, doing the shoulder shaping with short rows.

Next, I pick up along the shoulders and knit the first few inches of the front. Again, the shoulder shaping is done with short rows, and the neck shaping with increases along the front edge.

When the back and fronts are long enough, I pick up along the edges for the sleeve caps.

I use size 0 circular needles to pick up the stitches along the edges.

The whole yoke is now knit in one piece.

Neck shaping (in this case, a deep scoop neck) continues. Meanwhile, the sleeves are knit in Traveling Vine. At this point, the sleeves increase steadily and the front and back are worked even.

Watching the topology of the sweater evolve is fascinating.