Sunday, January 30, 2011

Land of the Giants

Part of me feels I oughtn't to be allowed to wear a new knitted project until it's been blogged. My bubbly-sister-in-law once told me she had a rule that she couldn't use a gift until she'd written the thank-you note. Maybe that's where it comes from.

In any case, it's cold weather, and I have a warm cowl I need to tell you about, so I can wear it!

It all started back in the fall, at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, in Berryville, Virginia, where I was a volunteer helper this year at the fleece sale. We volunteers were there all day to talk about raw fleeces with spinners and interested passers-by and to take payments from anyone who'd found a fleece to his or her liking. Pleasant work, and, best of all, we were welcome to bring our spinning wheels and sit there and spin. 

I had brought along Miss Muffet, my wee little portable Louet Victoria spinning wheel. I'd also brought some natural undyed wool to spin, thinking it would be good for demonstrating to anyone curious about what the natural undyed fleeces would be like to spin once cleaned and processed. Only -- funny thing -- there at the festival, surrounded by all the brightly colored wools and yarns, I began to feel just a bit dour about the good honest plain-colored wool I'd brought.

I cast my eyes around wildly and scurried across the aisle to the booth where the Barefoot Spinner, from Romney, West Virginia, had hand-dyed spinning fiber laid out. I found some Falklands wool, a breed I had not tried yet, and picked out an 8-ounce ball in soft, light colors, a change from my usual palette.  Falklands wool comes from the breed of sheep inhabiting those self-same Falkland Islands that were at issue between Britain and Argentina in the 1980s. Their wool, I later learned, is considered especially "green" because the islands are free of the usual sheep pests and so the sheep are not exposed to pesticides.

With that, I repaired happily back across the aisle to spin the day away. It was lots of fun to spin and chat with people coming by, especially small children who were mesmerized watching the wheel go around and around.

I spun the wool as softly as I could, trying for a lofty yarn, with moderate success. The colors mixed and become more muted, as they often do, but were still quite pretty.

When it was all over, I ended up with 8 ounces of soft, bulky 2-ply handspun.  Now for something to knit with it. I'd had my eye on a pattern from the Holiday 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting magazine for a while.  In that issue, there was a feature with several giant loose cowls that draped around the neck and even the shoulders, by designer Cathy Carron.

One in particular, with a pretty cable and leaf texture, appealed to me. (It's called Cabled Cowl #12 in the magazine, and I understand it's since been published in the designer's new book, Cowlgirls as "Candy Wrapper.") And this cowl was big! It was loose and baggy, about a yard around - very different from the modest little neck-warmers I'd seen in past years. It hung around the model's shoulders and looked it might fit Harry Potter's giant friend Hagrid.  It was shown in a strong, solid pink, but I thought it might look pretty in the variegated shades of my hand-dyed handspun yarn.  I set to work and soon had it done. It was a pleasure to knit in soft, cushy handspun.  Although the cowl is really just a giant tube, the cabled pattern was interesting -- varied enough to be fun but intuitive and not particularly difficult. It was fascinating watching the colors shift, and the changes were gradual enough to be compatible with the texture. 

But the giant cowl really comes into its own when worn, bunched around the neck and shoulders, colorful and warm.  It's a nice memory of the festival and an attractive piece with an offhand style all its own. I'm really pleased with the way it came out.

 And now may I wear it, please? :)

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

A Modest Output

I hope everyone had a nice holiday season. I did! In the rush leading up to it, I never know if I'm going to make it, but somehow just enough of everything all comes together just in time. And again this year, though I never seem to come close to matching the impossible dream in my head, I managed to get the tree decorated, cards out, presents bought and wrapped, and even a little Christmas baking done. 

And in the midst of all of this, there was time for just a very modest amount of Christmas knitting. I didn't do a lot, but I did at least make a sweet little scarflet for my tall-elegant-mom, and a hat and neck-warmer set for Yarnstruck-nephew-the-eldest.  The first was because I always try to make at least a little something for my mom, and the second by semi-request.  (My trim-athletic-dad didn't fare quite as well; his as-yet unknit socks were bestowed on him in pristine form, as a completely untouched ball of yarn. :)

Time was rushing onward, and I knew I wanted to knit something for Mom, but I didn't know what.  In the past I've made her stoles, scarves, shawls, gloves, hat, a sweater, and socks -- lots of socks -- all of which she makes valiant efforts to wear regularly. This time, I had no plan, but I did have a lovely skein of Jade Sapphire Mongolian Cashmere 6-ply squirreled away, in the Oceana colorway.  I'd bought it on a vacation a few years ago in Seattle and never quite come up with the right little project for it.

I'd always thought these colors would be nice on Mom, but what to make? One skein of worsted weight, however precious, would be of necessity a small project. I hit upon the idea of a  little scarflet that could give just a hint of warmth and color at the neck, where cashmere's softness would be most appreciated.

I ended up choosing a style that's often called a bowknot scarf.  It has a built-in loop on each side, cleverly constructed by separating the stitches into two layers and then rejoining, so that either end can be tucked through the other, neatly and securely.  There are quite a few patterns along this general model, but the one I used is Marci Richardson's version, from Judith Durant's 101 Designer One-Skein Wonders book. Like the others, it's in humble garter stitch (which does make it springy as to length and not prone to rolling), but it also has some nice refinements, like a simple eyelet trim along the edges. 

I made some minor changes to make it suit my mom (I hope) a little better.  I lengthened the two ends of the scarf by an inch or two to give it a more substantial look. I narrowed the band around the neck slightly so it won't bunch up or fold over and will be a little better for full-time wear, rather than just for venturing out into the cold.  I hope she'll enjoy having a small soft accessory that's easy to wear casually. Cozy, but not so warm you'd hesitate to reach for it unless the wind is really howling.

As for the requested item, that one tickled me.  Once, I made a pile of thick hats in cheery school-spirit colors, and gave them out to the Yarnstruck nephews (among others).  Well, what do you know, they wore them, and it seems they quite liked having a warm thick hat to wear on really cold days.  Two years later, Yarnstruck-nephew-the-eldest had moved on to college and needed a warm thick hat in a new color scheme. Well, no knitter on earth could resist the call to replace an appreciated piece of hand-knitting with another when the need arises.  It was Auntie Yarnstruck to the rescue!

If the original hat fit Yarnstruck-nephew-the-eldest and he liked it, well, I wasn't going to mess with success. I was going to do my level best to replicate it, materials, fit, styling, and all.  Everything would be just the same but the color. I ran right out for the same yarn as last time, Lion Brand Wool-Ease Thick and Quick, to knit with big US size 11 boat oars. 

The pattern was of my own concoction, but, no problem, I just needed to find the little scrap of paper where I had noted down the details. When I got a little time, I launched a search into the pile of little and bigger scraps and sheets where I've noted down lots of my original patterns but never written them up properly.  There sure were a lot of scraps and sheets.  This was taking longer to find than I thought.  In fact, I couldn't find it.  Uh-oh. I knew I'd written down the details on one of these scraps; I actually remembered transcribing them from an even smaller more tattered scrap of paper.  But I couldn't find it anywhere. I went through books, notebooks, drawers, and dug down to the deepest darkest bottom of my piles of yarn. I spent a couple of hours turning the place upside down.  I couldn't have searched more thoroughly if I'd brought a bloodhound with me. No scrap of paper. Oh, no.

Now mind you, my little hat pattern wasn't anything to set the world of hat patterns on fire, but I knew it had worked once, and I just wanted to knit it again.  I could have picked a pattern from one of the many (really! *many*) knitting books on my shelf, and adapted it for the yarn, and it probably would have been fine.  But it wouldn't have been identical to the original one, and identical is what I was going for. 

Hard times call for tough measures. At least I had taken a good picture of the original hat, a complete side view, smoothed out flat. I reverse-engineered my own hat design from the photo, stitch by stitch, and used it to knit the new hat.

There was plenty of yarn left over, so I made a ribbed cowl/neck-warmer to match.  I have to admit, this isn't quite how I pictured it being worn.  (It actually looked quite nice pushed down around Yarnstruck-nephew-the-eldest's handsome chin. :)  But, come to think of it, on a good freezing day, it's probably exactly the right way to wear it.

This time I wrote the whole thing down carefully.  And put it... somewhere. I'm sure it will turn up.

Thursday, December 9, 2010

Field and Fireside

When I went tramping through the fields to the fiber festivals this fall, I had a pretty scrumptious new sweater to wear. It's the Fireside sweater pattern by Amber Allison.

There's a bit of a story behind this pattern. There was a cute little romantic comedy movie in 2006 called The Holiday. It starred Cameron Diaz and Kate Winslett, as two strangers in the US and UK who, each unhappy and needing a change, swap houses for a brief vacation. The movie was lightweight and pleasant, but a buzz developed about the wardrobe worn by Cameron Diaz. One sweater in particular, extravagantly cabled and trim, really caught the eye. (It's the fourth one down the page on the preceding link.) Knitters ogled it, sighed over it, and tracked down the impossibly expensive source.

Amber Allison did more than sigh. She was so determined to have this sweater that she (dare I say obsessively?) studied pictures from the movie and recreated it as nearly as she could, stitch by stitch. She also, to the gratitude of legions of knitters, wrote out the pattern and adapted it for a range of sizes. It's remarkable, considering she'd never written a pattern before. On the other hand, I've never read a pattern written quite like this, either. There were a few directions like, "I suggest doing it this way, but I'm not going to tell you how to live your life." Quirky.

I stumbled across the Fireside sweater through Chesley Flotten's Knitting Experience Cafe blog (named after her much-loved but now-closed knitting shop in Maine). Chesley, who has an immaculate eye for great sweaters and a welcoming heart, had picked out the Fireside and was preparing to hold a knit-along for her band of loyal knitters. I, despite living in Virginia -- far, far away from Maine -- decided to join in. It was the first time I'd participated in a knit-along, where lots of knitters work on the same pattern at the same time, in a variety of yarns, discuss their progress, and share their results. It was great fun.

Chesley had scoped out some suitable yarns for the sweater. I ordered some Cascade Eco-Plus wool in the Grape colorway, downloaded the pattern, and got to work. Eco-Plus is a heavy-worsted weight 100% wool yarn and was, I thought, rather lightweight for the gauge of 4 stitches per inch. To get gauge, I ended up with US size 10 1/2 (6.5 mm) needles, and the fabric seemed a little loose. But it worked out well with the heavy cabling. It shows those cables like nobody's business. And the finished sweater feels great.

I made some significant adjustments to the pattern. I checked out out a number of finished Fireside sweaters. (You can see some good pictures of one finished Fireside on the Posh Knits blog, here.) For sizing, I noted a few complaints about tight, skinny sleeves. I chose a fairly snug size but decided to make armholes and sleeves according to the next size up. I also used the length measurements of the next size up. Still, I felt the waist decreases and increases looked like they would be kind of abrupt (this may have been partly due to my row gauge), so I made them longer and more gradual.

For construction, I didn't much relish the recommended procedure of knitting the sleeves in the round and then fitting them into the waiting armholes, so I knit them flat and seamed more conventionally. There were also a few rough edges in the details of the pattern, and I changed some small things in the underarms and the back neck shaping to refine it a bit.

But the sweater came together well, and all the adjustments and changes worked out fine. And, let me be clear, I LOVE this sweater! It's a beauty. Warm, cozy, and cabled, but sleek. It looks great tramping around in the open with jeans or dressed up in a tailored outfit with serious earrings. I venture to say you might even get away with it, in this jewel-like color, as a funky companion for a big gathered silk sort of skirt, the kind of styling you might see in Vogue Knitting magazine. I love it from the top of its stand-up cabled collar to the tip of its purposely over-long sleeves.

And did I mention that it's sexy? From the back, without the bulk of the overlapping off-center fronts, you can see the overall shape, almost like a curvy jacket. And the way the cables swoop in and out with the waist and shoulder shaping.

It's a really good-looking sweater. When I wear it, I get a ton of compliments, some on the style, and some on the fit. And some, from knitters, impressed with the cabling (which, honestly, is simpler to knit than it looks). You couldn't ask more than that!

Oh, and thank you, Chesley. :)

Tuesday, November 30, 2010

A Little Thrill

I've had an unexpected little bit of happiness recently -- seeing my yarn made into someone else's creation!

Here's how it happened. When I first got Miss Muffett, my little Louet Victoria spinning wheel (yes, I guess you could say I'm spoiled :), I immediately spun a few little bundles of hand-painted fiber. I didn't have anything definite in mind to do with the yarn. I was just spinning for the pure joy of revving up my new little hot-rod spinning wheel.

Of course, that didn't stop me from taking the yarns to show off to my knitting group friends. One friend in particular oohed and sighed over one of the skeins. It's the one in the front in the photo above. I'd spun it from two ounces of combed merino top from Fleece Artist, in Nova Scotia, bought a couple of years back at the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. It had long color transitions in muted shades of green and lavender, pink and blue-gray, and it really spoke to her.

She admired it and gave me fulsome compliments. Just being nice, I thought. But over the months, as the fruits of my spinning wheel came and went, she kept bringing up that one particular skein. "That was so pretty," she would say, "and so soft. I just loved those colors." I began to believe her.

In the end, I decided to wrap up that little skein and give it to her as a birthday gift. I was pretty sure she'd appreciate it. :)

And she did. When she opened that package, she recognized her favorite skein right away and squealed with happiness. She dashed around some of the neighboring offices to show it to people. Pretty gratifying.

But then a couple of weeks later, the really exciting thing happened. She showed up at work in a new scarf. I glanced and did a double-take. And a triple-take. And then a full-on stare. It looked very familiar. "Wait, that's my yarn! Eeeee! That's my yarn that's my yarn that's my yarn!" She just beamed.

I was so surprised. There were only about 200 yards of a fingering/sport weight yarn, and I hadn't thought she'd be able to do much with it. But she'd searched out a pattern and knitted it up.

And it's so pretty! She chose a pattern that works beautifully with the subtle colors and long transitions. It's the Susan Scarf, a free pattern by the talented Kristen Hanley Cardozo. And she did a beautiful job knitting it.

It was really exciting to see another knitter's vision of what could be made of my pretty yarn. We're both proud of that scarf. (You should see how great it looks when she wears it with her dark green sweater!)

It's as if I gave her a little present, and she turned around and gave me one right back. What a nice little thrill.

Friday, October 8, 2010

Bringing in the Fleece

This year, I got to see another side of the lovable Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, by helping out as a volunteer on the Fleece Sale.

A fleece sale, for those not familiar with the concept, is a chance for handspinners to buy a raw, unprocessed whole fleece, just as it comes from the freshly shorn sheep. Raw fleeces are full of all kinds of stuff: bits of weeds and vegetable matter that has clung to the sheep, fresh moist natural lanolin, pleasant ripe animal smells, and -- most of all -- possibility.

The SVFF fleece sale is juried, meaning the fleeces are inspected for quality by an expert judge before being admitted into the sale. It's a big job for the two experts, and so there are opportunities for willing volunteers to help with the physical labor, listen, and learn.

The day before the festival begins, the shepherds bring their fleeces to the judges to be evaluated and entered in the sale. Some bring just a couple of fleeces, and others bring half a dozen or more, each a large double-armful in its own plastic bag.

Now the volunteers swing into action. One writes up tags, noting down the shepherd and the breed or hybrid of the sheep that supplied each fleece, and often the individual sheep's own name. Others empty the fleece from its plastic bag onto a mesh table, loose debris falling through onto the concrete floor.

Spreading out a fleece so it can be examined is a careful job. A skilled shearer will have trimmed the fleece off a sheep all in one big piece that hangs together in the shape of the animal itself, a phantom sheepskin rug. It's easy enough to dump the bundled fleece out of its bag, but the mass of wool must then be gently picked open and fully unrolled on the table, without the loosely linked clumps of wool becoming tangled and breaking apart from the delicate whole-body shape.

After the fleece is unrolled, the volunteers check it over quickly for any bits and pieces that should come out. The shepherd will already have taken out the mucky parts and poor quality areas around the hindquarters. But still, there are smaller things to be removed, like second cuts (bits of short, unusable wool where the shepherd ran the clippers over an overlapping spot again), or burrs and noticeable bits of hay or weeds.

Then the expert judges are called over. They plunge experienced hands in to feel the fineness of the wool. They check the length of the fibers in the locks of wool. They test small clumps for soundness, both visually and by a good sharp lengthwise tug. They assign the fleece to a category, be it fine, medium, long, or double-coated. Sometimes the category is clear from the sheep's breed, and sometimes the judges rely on their own assessment, particularly for hybrids, which can vary widely from one individual to another. They write notes on the fleece's tag, commenting on such things as the quality of the wool, the color, the length, the cleanness, or appropriate uses, to provide guidance for buyers.

When the judges finish with each fleece, the volunteers fold and roll it into a neat ball, stuff it back into its bag, and cart it to its spot on the long table of fleeces for sale.

It wasn't glamorous work. The temperature hit 98 degrees that day. Each fleece typically weighed 4-7 pounds. The wool was full of dirt and grease, and our hands shone from the lanolin. We were grubby and hot. But it was fascinating, and I learned a lot. One thing I found interesting is that the judges actually did reject a few fleeces, for instance, if there was a weak spot in the length of the wool resulting from the animal having an episode of poor health as it grew. Truly, only good-quality fleeces were accepted for the sale.

And the day was at times poignant. I met shepherds who handed over a number of fleeces with obvious pride, shepherds who hoped their fleeces would sell to bring in some money to keep the flock fed, and one dear lady who shears her sheep with ordinary scissors and great care.

To a spinner's eyes, a fleece is just beautiful. Just look at that rich natural color, with the tips of the sheep's coat lightened a little bit by its year in the sun.

Lovely as they are, though, I resisted buying one the next day when they went on sale. I've processed one small fleece so far, and it takes some time. The lanolin and dirt have to be washed out in a series of hot baths, the fleece laid out to dry, and the sweet-smelling clumps of clean wool carded or combed, and put away ready for spinning. I'm game to do it again, but not just yet. I've got a lot of work to do first to clear the decks.

So it wasn't easy, but I held back from buying both there and the following week at the Fall Fiber Festival, where I strolled purely as a shopper.

I simply gave the fleece sale tent a wide berth and stayed as far away as possible from temptation. :)

Monday, October 4, 2010

Festival Season

The bright crisp days are here, and that can mean only one thing: it's fall, and festival season! OK, only two things, if you want to be picky. :)

Yes, in my annual autumn frenzy of festival-going, I've been to two of my favorite festivals in the last two weekends. Of course, they all seem to be my favorites, but then, they're all wonderful in different ways.

The first, the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival, in Berryville, Virginia, was moved this year for the first time to late September (to avoid a conflict with the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair). And the Fall Fiber Festival, on the Montpelier Estate near Orange, Virginia, was held as usual in early October.

Both are quite small, relative to the behemoths that are the Rhinebeck, New York, festival in the fall (or so I hear, never having been) and -- oldest and biggest of them all -- the mighty Maryland Sheep and Wool Festival in the spring. The tidy small size of the Shenandoah and Montpelier festivals, in fact, is one of their great virtues, as there's room to stroll around and browse without being utterly overwhelmed by crowds and overstimulation. And there's plenty to look at, between the shopping, the fiber-bearing animals on display, and at Montpelier, the sheepdog competitions going on all day nearby.

My experience with the Shenandoah festival this time was a bit different from past years, as I got a chance this year to help out in a small way by volunteering! Of course, that meant less time just strolling around shopping and taking pictures. So the visual souvenirs here are from the Montpelier festival. Rest assured, though, there were plenty of treasures at both festivals.

By the time the Montpelier festival rolled around, the weather had cooled, blessedly, to the point that festival-goers could actually wear some of their hand-crafted productions. I love seeing the knitters showing off their hand-knit sweaters, lace shawls, berets, and just about anything else that can be fashioned out of wool.

It was a jolly day entirely. World's-most-patient-husband was a good sport and chauffeured me on the beautiful but long-ish country drive to the festival. I browsed and shopped and wandered and chatted to my heart's content while he napped and read a book he'd brought along. I even parked myself on a picnic bench for a bit to spin some newly bought fiber just for the joy of playing with my new toys.

Oh yes, indeed there was some newly bought fiber. Some of it is here, braids of wool to spin in bright citrus colors and dusky subtle colors and whatever else was appealing. Let's see, the one on the left is a merino "pigtail" from Stony Mountain Fibers in Virginia. The two in the center are a wool-and-seacell blend from Creatively Dyed in South Carolina, and the one on the right is blue-face leicester wool from River's Edge Fiber Arts, here at the festival all the way from Michigan.

And then there were heaps of wool-mohair blend roving, which is lots of fun to spin. The orangey-tan roving on the left is wool, kid mohair, and a touch of sparkle, in the Bronze colorway from Steam Valley Fiber Farm in Pennsylvania. Charmingly, the label they provided tells me exactly which goats and sheep are responsible for the fiber, by name. So, thank you, TinMan, Neptune, and the rest. :)

The two pretty rovings on the right, one in rose and the other in a soft coffee color, are from Kid Hollow Farm in Virginia, which has provided me with many, many hours of spinning pleasure before. My tall-elegant-mom, my trim-athletic-dad, and I all have accessories or sweaters I've spun and knitted from Kid Hollow fiber. The rose colorway is called Puerto Rico, and the buff is called Chestnut. This time, I think I may spin a strand in each of the two colors and ply them together.

And that little twirly thing? Wait, how did that get in there? It's a Tom Dyak drop spindle from DyakCraft (formerly Grafton Fibers). I didn't really need another spindle, but those mischievous River's Edge ladies had it right there, where I couldn't help seeing it, with its cheery bright colors.

Really, what could I do? :)

Monday, September 13, 2010

Hand-Dipped Tappan Zee

(Wow, she's really let herself go.)
No, I haven't!

(She just hasn't been taking care of anything.)
Yes, I have.

(She probably hasn't been doing any knitting at all.)
Have too.

I can hear you, you know.

I have I have I have!

In fact there are finished objects strewn all around the place. Here's one now.

Amy Spunky Eclectic King had a pattern in the spring issue of Knitty that seemed just about perfect for some spinning fiber I had on hand in a pretty, pretty color. Amy is well known as a wonderful hand-dyer and is also the author of one of my very favorite spinning books, Spin Control.

The Tappan Zee pattern is casual and breezy, designed for handspun yarn, and -- most importantly -- made with only about 6 ounces of fiber, at least given Spunky's expert spinning technique. Allowing for the difference between her results and my, ahem, somewhat less expert spinning, I thought I might just pull it off with the 8 ounces of fiber I had. It's from the very nice and encouraging Kate Bostek of Roclans Farm in Fairfield, PA. The colorway is called Heartfelt (awww...), and it was one of my finds at the 2008 Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival.

Still a bit nervous about whether I could get enough yardage out of my 8 ounces, I came up with a back-up plan. At the same show, I had bought 4 ounces of another spinning fiber in a similar but slightly darker color, called Raspberry Whip. (I remember getting it home and wondering what on earth I had been thinking!) It was, if memory serves, from a vendor called the Brazen Sheep. I think I was dazed by the fact that it had 10% cashmere in the blend.

I decided to blend the two colorways in gradually varying proportions to spin a range of yarns that would shade from light to dark. I measured out by weight how much fiber of each color to spin together for each color gradation. Then I got busy spinning 12 ounces of fiber, aiming for sportweight.

Here's how the yarn came out. See how the color changes from the top of the picture to the bottom? That's not an illusion!

I adore it. I want to try this trick again.

Still and all, I wasn't entirely sure how my idea was going to work out in the actual sweater. It could either look like a really cool custom design, or like I ran out of yarn and had to finish the knitting in a different colorway that didn't quite match.

Or like I sat in something. :p

But there was only one way to find out. So I got knitting. The yarn was light and springy, a pleasure to knit with, and a relief after all the careful concentration that went into the spinning. And Tappan Zee is a nice pattern to knit, easy and straightforward. It's knit top-down, with enough decoration at the yoke to be fun but not fussy. I changed practically nothing -- a rarity. I only needed to add a couple of extra rows here and there to lengthen the yoke because my gauge was a bit off.

Actually, it's a miracle that the gauge was only a little bit off, because this was the first time I really tried to spin a sweater quantity of yarn to a specific weight for a specific pattern. Before, I've just spun whatever yarn the fiber seemed to make, and then found, adapted, or designed a pattern to work with it. For a first time spinning to order, I really didn't do too badly. :)

And look how it turned out!

Isn't it pretty? I had a hard time getting a picture that shows the color change. But look at the color striations in the main part of the sweater. That's one of the things I love about handspun. And, if you look closely near the bottom on the right, you can see how the color just blends imperceptibly into the darker shade.

Since the colors are so close, it does sort of look like a different dye lot of the same yarn. Or like I sat in something.

But I prefer to think it looks like a hand-dipped ice cream cone. So that's what I say it is!

Hand-dipped Tappan Zee. Delicious. :)

Monday, June 7, 2010

Baby Who Sweater

One of the members of my broad-minded knitting group (includes an awful lot of quilters for a knitting group) is hugely pregnant. We only meet once a month and don't get a chance to see much of each other in between, so it took us a while to wake up to this fact. Once we did, though, we were pretty quick on the uptake. Hey, wait a minute, we knit (or quilt or whatever)! We could make her something!

To get a little extra time, we delayed our next scheduled meeting by a week on a flimsy but plausible pretext -- hoping she wouldn't surprise us by having an early baby -- and got to work. So, now to pick a project.

Our mom-to-be is a happy-spirited sock-knitter with a boisterous color sense. The colors in this cocktail napkin are in the ballpark, though there aren't enough of them and the whole effect is a little too quiet. (That should give you an idea!) I knew pale baby pastels were not for her. She and her husband had also chosen to be surprised, so there were no clues as to the pink-ness or blue-ness of the imminent arrival.

I wanted to make a little sweater, and after a quick mental inventory, I was certain there was nothing in the house to fit the bill. It needed to be colorful, washable, and worsted weight -- for speed of knitting! And I didn't have time for ordering on-line. I found myself near a new local yarn shop with a few spare minutes and dived in to see what I could find.

After a brief mental dalliance with some wildly colored (but not machine washable) Manos yarn, I came upon a basket of Mochi Plus, from Crystal Palace Yarns. It was a merino-nylon blend. *So* soft, washable, not babyish, and worsted weight. Clearly a winner. Though it wasn't violently bright in color, it had nice long-transition colorways. I picked out three different ones and hoped for the best.

Rooting around for worsted-weight baby patterns, I came up with Jimmy's Baby Gift Sweater Set from the nice people at Jimmy Beans Wool. It's a little top-down raglan that's perfect for multi-colored yarn. And, a great advantage when you're in a rush, no seams to sew! (It couldn't save me from buttons, since I did want to do a cardigan, but you can't have everything.) I needed to make the larger, 1-year-old, size, given the exuberant bloom of our sock-knitting mom-to-be. It was cutting things close, with the 285 yards of yarn I had, but looked like it could be done.

I puzzled for a while over how to combine the three colorways and decided to knit wide stripes of each in sequence. Though I wasn't sure how it would look, I needed to get started, and fast. It turns out that knitting a small sweater in a variety of pretty striping yarns is lots of fun and went quickly. And the wide stripe sequence of the three colorways worked beautifully.

As with most projects, I made a few adjustments. I replaced the garter-stitch hem and cuffs with ribbed ones, which seemed to live more comfortably within the gradually striping colors. I changed the neckband and button-band to mainly reverse-stockinette welts.

Knitting the cuffs at first as written, I thought they looked a little small for chubby baby fists. So I redid them adding a few extra stitches to the wrists.

I couldn't resist picking out some extra bright sections of yarn and using them for contrast color-tipping on all the cast-off edges. And I found some bright shiny red buttons.

I got the little sweater done in the nick of time, sewing on the last of the buttons at midnight the night before our knitting group meeting. It was a rushy evening entirely, what with getting a cake, finding suitable wrapping and card, and finishing a little sweater, but it did all get done.

And we did surprise her. I think I even saw some brimming eyes, before she blinked it away. Our little group came through beautifully, with a pile of handmade goods. A wildly colored pompom-adorned knit hat. A crib quilt and quilted diaper bag. A crocheted beanie. Sweet little appliqued t-shirts.

And a pretty fine-looking baby sweater. :)