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Kicking the doldrums

There is nothing like hot pink mohair to kick the knitting doldrums.

About a month ago my mother in law asked me to make her the Ice Queen pattern from Knitty.  Since she loves bright colors I’ve been on the lookout for a jaw-dropping ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze.  Even though we are on a spending freeze (basically a self-imposed moratorium on any non-essential spending) The Baron got to buy a few essential pinball related toys.  I decided that one ball of yarn would not kill us, especially since I have been in such knitting gloom recently.  And I am knitting for his mother!

I popped into Unwind the weekend before last and there on the shelf, a full 50 cents cheaper than any other ball of Kidsilk Haze, was one single bright-hot pink fluffball.  I just could not hold myself back.  I grabbed some matching beads and picked up a teeny tiny (size 11, 1.1 mm) crochet hook from Joanne’s.  Finally, after looking at the yarn and feeling fussy for a whole week, I cast on over the weekend and just raced through the project.  It didn’t hurt that I met up with Miss V on Saturday for a literati marathon.

I haven’t worked feather and fan lace before and I was a bit surprised by how easy it was to memorize.  The resulting fabric is delicate and airy but also feels warm.  I just cannot get over how filmy and beautiful the lace looks, especially in such a kick-ass color.

I absolutely love love love the end result and I cannot wait for knitting group tonight.  Right now my big decision is whether or not I should include beading along the top and bottom edges or just along the bottom.  Will beads on the top weight down the lace too much and make it fall like a souffle?  I am also wondering how long I have to wait to pick up another ball to make one for myself :)

Discombobulated

Usually I find that my knitting moves pretty directly from point A to point B: I plan a project, get my yarn and tools together, cast on and go.  When I am working on a giant project I tend to work smaller projects in around the edges, but never more than one or two at a time.

Now though, I feel like I’ve got far too much going on knitting-wise, and not too much of it moving toward a fruitful conclusion.

- Sheep Yoke Baby Cardigan:

I started this little colorwork project by trying out Fair Isle.  I was less than thrilled with the slightly lumpy result, but rather than rip it out I just cast on for a second cardigan and worked the sheep with intarsia.  I’m happier with the intarsia cardigan but there are still so many ends to work in!  I’ve been trying to darn in ends while I have my Literati Knitters to distract me, but so far it has been slow going.  I then decided (don’t ask me why) to work the sleeve in the round rather than flat.  I guess I was thinking fewer ends to weave in, but . . . I always think magic loop is such a great concept and then I remember what a pain it is!

So now I have two partially finished cardigans and a ton of ends . . . not very satisfying at all.

Add to that the fact that the baby I’m knitting for is a boy (a fact that I learned after starting the sweater) and I really want to knit something more manly for him.  Maybe a sweater and hat with stripes.  I don’t know.  I’m just not very pleased with my baby-gift progress.  And did I mention that I’m sick of weaving in ends?

- Druid Mittens:

I love and loathe these mittens.  Gauge totally deserted me since the cable pattern of the mittens shrinks the fabric up so much.  I knit 3/4 of the mitten body of BOTH mittens (again, don’t ask — I was trying to keep each section consistant by knitting the two mittens sort of at the same time) on size 0 needles before deciding that they were just WAY too small for a grown up person.  Again, rather than rip I just ordered new yarn and was back on my way.

A side note: Woodland Woolworks rocks.  They sent me one odd ball from a different dye lot than the other balls I’d ordered and when I called they immediately got the correct yarn in the mail to me along with a return envelope for the odd ball.  Of course, me being me, I put the odd ball somewhere special so that I’d be sure to remember to mail it back . . . and I have not seen it since.  Go me!

So not wanting to repeat the gauge issues I’d had with the first pair of mittens, I made two cuffs and then worked about two inches of each mitten using two different needle sizes.  I finally picked the one I liked best and ripped the other back to the cuff.  At this point I have 4 totally unfinished mittens and I’m wild to get these little suckers done, especially since they are going to end up in San Francisco where the summers are notoriously cold, but I am not too hopeful.  It feels like they will be on my needles until eternity.

- Baby Booties:

A friend has asked me to knit a pair of booties for her, something that she could give to a new baby arriving in her family.  Although it’s not normally something I’d volunteer for, Miss V and I have been plotting to create some bootie patterns so this request seemed like good motivation.  My job is to come up with the bootie form on which to build cute little bootie animals.  So far, I am not doing so hot.  I’ve given a few ideas a good test knit, but so far I am not loving anything and I’m a bit frustrated with myself.  On one hand I am trying to build a better mousetrap, but on the other . . . reinventing the wheel.  And now I’m writing entirely in cliche.

- Ice Queen:

My mother-in-law specifically requested a smoke ring.  This weekend I found a really intensely hot pink ball of Rowan Kidsilk Haze, some pretty matching seed beads, and a size 11 crochet hook small enough to fit through the beads.  I am dying to chuck all of the above and just bite into some meaty, colorful lace.

Poor me . . . frustrated with my knitting.  There are worse problems a person could have, but there you go.  Today I am a very fussy knitter.

Frequent visitors to this space may recall that in the past six months I’ve been working on designing my first really original (ie, not from a pattern) project, with all the stops and starts that go along with such an endeavor. Just as Levi is a very welcome addition to his family, I’m happy to finally be able to show off Levi’s Baby Blanket.  Ta da!

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VITAL STATISTICS: Pattern: My own.  I think the recipe for Levi’s blanket is fairly simple but I’ve never designed anything before.  Please leave a comment with any questions or thoughts! **Please note: Written (as opposed to charted) directions are now available here and here.**

Made for: Baby Levi

Yarn: Knit Picks Swish Superwash Bare (undyed) Worsted Weight

Yardage: About 750 yards – I used 4 hanks and had a bit left over.

YarnSource: Knit Picks

Needles: US size 5 KnitPicks Options needles.  I wanted an extra-dense fabric so I worked on slightly smaller needles than I normally would have.

Gauge/Final Size: About 44×32, depending on blocking.

Some blocking photos:

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Some detail photos:

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I really try hard to avoid deadline knitting. I don’t knit holiday gifts at all, and when I have given knitted gifts I try to incorporate the planning and design process into the giving.  It’s a bit selfish, perhaps, but planning a project is often my least-favorite part of knitting and I have enjoyed having help and input.  It makes the gift all the more special since the final product will be made-to-order, and there is the added benefit of spending some time with the intended recipient.

Then, of course, there are those times when planning and collaboration just aren’t possible, and when deadlines creep up on a person all sneaky-like.  That’s been the case with Levi’s Blanket, which I’ve been struggling to design and create in the mere five months since he was “matched” with his adoptive parents.  Well now he’s here, official, adopted, and in need of his blanky!

After several false starts designing my own cables, I decided I would not try and reinvent the wheel.  Sticking with my original theme of “three,” I combed through stitch dictionaries and finally came up with three different cables.  Working my trusty Excel skills to their outer limits, I created a color-coded chart that takes up a full 11×17 sheet of paper. The chart is 85 rows high and 158 stitches across.  It’s a monster.  Once I was happy with my instructions, I took a deep breath, cast on with Swish Worsted in bare (the natural colorway), and started cabling my heart out.  Three (and change) chart repeats later, I’m just a handful of rows away from finishing.  Since I’ll probably be meeting Baby Levi next week, I’ve got sore wrists and a grating feeling of anxiety deep in my gut even though I’m fairly sure I’ll be able to finish up quite easily.

While I’m happy that I took on this project and pleased with the results, its a good reminder of what I like and don’t like about knitting.  I love the process.  Sitting for hours, thoughts drifting or focused, listening to radio, tv, a book or just silence, each stitch is a quiet focal point, a badly-needed valve for my daily frustrations.  I love to give gifts, but more than “stuff” that is made overseas and breaks easily, I try to give time, experience, or handmade things . . . and NOT on a deadline!

Back on the Horse

You know that feeling, when you have a big term paper looming, and even though you’re procrastinating on it, you just can’t do any other work either on the theory that if you’re working on something it should be the paper?

Well, that’s what’s been going on with my blog lately.  I was so focused and fretty about publishing my Mandala round-up that I just couldn’t bring myself to blog about anything else.  Now that I’ve finished and it’s up, there are so many other things to talk about!

First of all, since I can never be without a lace project, I’m trying to figure out what lace to knit next.  I really enjoyed the Mandala but I think I’m now fairly convinced of my preference for shawls that are triangular or rectangular rather than round.  I loved the way that my Frost Flowers & Leaves shawl turned out, and I love the way that it looks on my sister.  Of course, she is amazing with wardrobe and could make a paper bag look glamorous, thus the nickname.  I like the practicality of a triangular shawl, although it does concern me a bit to have a triangle-tip pointing, um . . . down one’s back.  But the circle just doesn’t make much sense.  I understand wearing it folded up around the neck, but then why bother with the lace if you’re just going to wrap it up tightly?  Thrown around the shoulders it felt a bit awkward to me.  I didn’t like how the top folded over so that the wrong-side was facing out around the shoulders, and I didn’t like the overall feeling that I was wearing a tablecloth.

Sure, I’m not exactly a maestro with draping fabric, and not exactly in the age or weather bracket for extensive shawl wearing, but still.  I want a pattern that looks and feels lacy but also has a classic, elegant simplicity to it.  I’ve always been drawn to Pink Lemon Twist’s Hanami Stole and it’s always on my mind.  I think I’d like to knit it for myself, in the  most luxurious yarn I can think of!  Of course, cash and color are my two stumbling blocks in that area.  With Hanami as my starting point, I’ve taken Ravelry’s new pattern recommendation experiment for a spin.  It’s the little sciency-looking vial icon at the bottom right on the pattern page.  You click on it and it suggests similar patterns you might like.  From this experiment I found the Curved Shawl with Diamond Edging from Victorian Lace Today.  It appeals to me because it’s curved rather than pointy along the bottom, and I like the repeating circle motif.  Still, it is not exactly the clean, sleek look I’ve been hoping to find.

Since I don’t have another lace recipient in mind, I guess I should just go ahead and pick out some lace for myself.  I do have a ton of other people to knit for at the moment.  Levi’s arrival is anticipated at any moment, and his baby blanket is almost (maybe . . . I need to block and see how I feel . . .) finished.  I’ve also got mittens and socks on my needles at the moment, and as soon as I’m done with knitting for Levi I need to start knitting for baby N, a lucky little kid who’ll be meeting his or her wonderful parents in July.  Lots of knitting to do, which I hope will lead to lots of blogging!

She’s finally finished!

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VITAL STATISTICS:

Pattern: Mandala, originally known as the Goddess Knits Anniversary Mystery Shawl

Made for: My mother-in-law, The Master, who has showered me with gratitude and compliments since receiving the shawl.

Yarn: KnitPicks Gossamer (now discontinued)

Yardage: I’d estimate I used more than half of the final skein, so 3.75 skeins, about 1650 yards

Yarn Source: KnitPicks and the generosity of Ravelers.  I realized that I needed  more than I had of this now-discontinued yarn.  I searched other Ravelers’ stashes for the exact dye-lot I needed, and ended up swapping for the extra yarn.

Needles: US size 4 KnitPicks Options circular needles, US size 3 KnitPicks Harmony DPNs from my set.

Modifications: Although I didn’t modify the pattern at all, one of the coolest parts of the Mandala pattern was the choose-your-own adventure element of the charts.  To my horror as I write this, I realize that I cannot remember which charts I used for the first three sections of the chart.  For chart 4 I used chart B.

Looking back at my photos and the charts, I’d guess I used chart 1B, 2C,  and 3D.

RESOURCES:

I followed along with the Ravelry group for the Goddess Knits Anniversary Mystery Shawl knit-along, which was very helpful, and also got chart updates and info from the Yahoo Group (although I believe the Yahoo group is now closed to new members).

SMOOTHING OUT THE TANGLES:

The Cast-on:

I started this circular shawl with my old favorite standby, the Emily Ocker circular cast-on.  I used size 3 dpns to start with so that I wouldn’t have to worry too much about keeping the tension snug as I worked the hardest part of a circular shawl: those first few rows!

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A helpful hint for getting circular shawls started: put your work on a pillow and turn the pillow as you knit around instead of trying to turn the work itself.  Using a pillow can really help stabilize your knitting in the very delicate early stages.

Choose your own adventure:

This shawl is a variation on Elizabeth Zimmerman’s Pi Shawl.  Instead of one pattern worked all the way through, each section offers a choice between four patterns.  A little basic probability math tells us there are 256 possible shawls that can come out of this pattern!  Such a cool idea!

The charts:

I worked chart one on size 3 DPNs and switched to size 4 circs once I got past the increase at the end of chart 1.  I find that knitting the beginning rounds of a circular shawl works well because the smaller needles help keep the tricky beginning snug.

A tip (that I did not put together until the end of chart 4 but that will probably be obvious to most people): I was initially intimidated by the shaded rows, where the instructions say to knit one extra stitch in the plain round before the shaded row (also known as moving the stitch marker one stitch to the left).  Once I actually did this the first time it made complete sense to me.  I also noticed an interesting pattern feature of the shaded rows.  Each shaded row ends in a double-decrease, where the instructions say to slip two stitches together as if to k2tog, then knit the next stitch, then pass the two slipped stitches over.  Because the pattern repeats of the shaded rows are shifted to begin one stitch to the left, it follows that they will also END one stitch to the left.  This means that when working the shaded rows, you can always check yourself to make sure you are on track by noticing that at the end of each repeat you slip the two stitches as if to knit, remove your pattern repeat marker, knit the next stitch and pass the two slipped stitches over, and replace your pattern repeat marker.

I was a bit behind the knitalong group – it always amazes me how people can knit an entire large clue in just a week!  It worked out well though, because I got a sneak peek at how each chart choice came out and I selected accordingly.

Edging:
One of the things I liked about using the varigated yarn was the way the edging changed:

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As you can see, the striping was horizontal for the body of the shawl and then became vertical in the edging.  The visual impact of the perpendicular lines of color was very striking.

The effect was even cooler after blocking:

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Now that I’ve done two shawls in the round, I can’t imagine that I would ever choose to finish a shawl without a knitted on edging instead of a traditional bind-off.  Because of the extent that lace must be stretched for blocking, I would not want to be confined to a tight bind-off that would prevent the lace from being as lacy as possible.   Yes, a perpendicularly knitted edge does take a LOT longer than a regular bind off, and it does involve grafting, but ultimately it is worth it.

Grafting means using the principles of Kitchner stitch to bring the end of the edging together with the beginning.  Unlike regular Kitchner stitch though, you must incorporate all of the elements of the lace pattern as you weave the two ends together.  Grafting this shawl edging together was an exercise in patience and steel nerves.  I banished The Baron to his cave and worked in near-total silence for about 45 minutes before I was finally able to breathe.  Perhaps I’ll be able to speak of the experience in more detail later, but let me just say that grafting lace is not for the faint of heart.

I STRONGLY suggest using this technique.  It’s the one I’ve used for both of my in-the-round shawl projects and at this point the only way I know of to successfully execute this delicate operation.

Blocking:

Over the course of working this shawl, I noticed that the yarn seemed a bit sticky, so I was extremely concerned about felting.  I did my usual warm-water wash in the kitchen sink with a cap-full of Soak woolwash.  I squished the fabric down into the bowl once and flipped the whole thing over once, but mostly I just left it alone.  I can’t say why, but I am a sucker for soaking photos, so here’s photographic evidence of my kitchen sink and metal mixing bowl:

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After the first hour-long bath, the water was very green, so I did another bath in plain water for an hour.  The shawl still was not rinsing clean, so I repeated the hour-long dip in lukewarm water with another cap-full of Soak wash and after a final soak in plain water (4 soakings in total!) the water was much more clear.  I gently wrangled the wet beast out of the bowl, let it drip for a minute into the sink, and then spread it out onto several towels that I rolled up.  I had The Baron apply his gigantic flat feet to the towels and then unwrapped the shawl and spread it out on our guest bed for pinning out.

I started by pinning out the edges of the shawl in quarters, sticking a pin in the north, south, the east and the west-most points.  From there I added a few pins to each section.  Once the shawl started stretching out, I was able to re-position my original four pins to get even more diameter to the shawl.  When I’d gone as far as I felt I could, I got out my yardstick and measured the radius of the shawl at several points.  The largest radius I got was 31 inches from center to edging point, so I began working my way around the shawl, pinning each edging point out or readjusting the existing pins to get a 31 inch radius.

Once again, the magic of blocking blew me away, turning this:

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into this:

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Mandala Edging

After the snipped-skein mess last week, I was quite relieved to finish the main body of my Mandala/GKAMS and still have quite a bit of yarn left in the large ball I was able to salvage.  I’m on to the edging, (using a variation of the shawl edging technique I learned about here) and quite happy with the way the varigated yarn is striping up.  If you’ve been following along, you know I’m working with Knitpicks Gossamer in Caribbean which is a pretty loud color.  For the whole body of the shawl, the color and pooling has been pretty intense.  Now that I’m on to the edging though, a back-and-forth 13 to 17 stitch repeat worked vertically along the horizontal edge of the shawl, there’s a very fun quick striping happening, with each color change lasting about the length of one row.  It’s going well and I hope will finish up quickly.  Although I’m very against holiday gift knitting, because of the timing on this bad boy I’m hoping to get it out the door in time for a Christmas delivery to my Mother-in-Law.  We’ll see!

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