Saturday, November 21, 2009

Almost Opulent

Sleeve adjustment completed, I now have a finished sweater to smile over.

It's almost but not quite Wendy Bernard's Opulent Raglan, from the Fall 2008 issue of KnitScene. I made the sweater in Patons Classic worsted-weight wool, in a color called Cognac Heather. I made it in a size with a little negative ease. As usual, I changed a few things. The original sweater is 3/4 sleeved, a longish length, and has a hemmed bottom. It's very attractive, but it isn't quite me. So I shortened it to hip length, added a ribbed edge at the bottom, and made the sleeves full-length. And changed the cuff design. I did very much like the big scrunchy central cable flanked with textured cable twists, so I left that alone. :)

I also like the square neckline, though that was the cause of some worrying. In the magazine, the neckline is so deep that it reveals a bit of cleavage. It's an attractive look, but it does limit a sweater's versatility for my daily working life. And for most of the time while the knitting was underway, it looked like it was heading in exactly that direction. I figured I would just have to wear layers under it.

This was my first time knitting a sweater from the top down, in the round, so that it could be tried on practically from the beginning. As soon as the neckline and armholes emerged, I was poking my head and arms through them to have a look. I threaded the stitches onto a really long circular needle cable and pulled the sweater on. (I still lost a few stitches off the ends each time and retrieve them, sputtering and grumbling, but that's another story. Eventually I learned that it was worth the bit of extra time to put stoppers on the ends.) The neckline looked voluptuously deep, and I wondered if I might actually have to worry about its falling entirely off the cliff, so to speak. But I did know that adding the ribbing would firm up the edge and would probably close it up a little. If not, well, layering.

I tried that sweater on over and over as it progressed. (I found that, for me, the good thing about trying on a top-down raglan in progress is that you can. The bad thing is that you might feel you must. Again and again.) I was especially careful about trying on and measuring to gauge the length for the long sleeves I wanted, since that frontier was untrodden by the pattern instructions. I made them longer, in fact, after a first try. I fussed over the cuffs as well, since the version in the pattern designed to be worn just under the elbow was a more dramatic look than I wanted to see at my wrists.

Finally, I had everything just the way I wanted it, and I picked up stitches and knitted on the neckband. And guess what that did? It tightened up the neckline. It tightened it a lot. Suddenly it was quite a ladylike neckline. I'm not sure why it's that much higher than in the pattern photo. It's the same number of stitches, but I must have knit the ribbing significantly tighter than the designer did. But that was fine; it worked in my favor and preserved modesty.

I wove in all the ends and tried it on again. Happily declared it done. Admired it in the mirror. Wondered why those shrewdly judged sleeves were an inch too short. Sighed deeply and realized the neckline's connected to the shoulder, the shoulder's connected to the sleeve... and the tightened neck must have hiked the whole thing up. So I unpicked all the carefully buried ends, ripped out those poufy cuffs, and added an inch to both sleeves. It was aggravating, but it's done, anyway.

And now I have a finished sweater that I like very much. It dresses up or down. For work, it looks good under a jacket, which frames the cable texture nicely. Those big cuffs peek out of the jacket sleeves and feel just slightly romantic, without drawing too much attention to themselves.

My verdict on the top-down, in-the-round construction is mixed. It's interesting to try a sweater on as you go, but, ahem, there could still be one or two little hitches. I've generally had pretty good luck with the fit on traditional pieced-and-sewn sweaters when I measure at the beginning, make a plan, and hope for the best. And I quite like that "ta-da" feeling you get when you seam it up and suddenly, pouf, there's a whole new sweater to try on. One other observation is that the sweater seems to want to twist a little bit. I've had seamless commercial t-shirts that do this, too. I think perhaps if it had the structure of seams, it would stay straighter.

So I'm not quite a convert to the method. But I know more than I did before, and it's another technique to use when it makes sense. And I love the sweater. And that can't be bad.

Sunday, November 8, 2009

And Besides...

So what if my knitting has a little setback? It has its ups and downs. It's all part of the bargain.

And one of the ups is festival-going. A couple of weekends ago, I got to enjoy the last event of my annual fiber-festival season: the Shenandoah Valley Fiber Festival. I love this homey little festival. It's been growing each year, but it still has an endearing small-time flavor that makes it special.

There are all kinds of fiber-bearing animals -- sheep, llamas, goats, alpacas, and fluffy rabbits -- to visit.

This little fellow seemed as curious about me as I was about him. He was probably wondering if I'd brought him any treats.

There are yarn shops, and spinning fibers, and knitted items, and felters, and weavers, and guilds, and farm goods like these beeswax candles, and Boy Scout cider.

On the drive to the festival, in late October, there was foliage afire with autumn color, and roadside pumpkins like this monster. 741 pounds, the sign said, and at the stand where I stopped there was a whole row of others like it. There was also barbecue that had been smoking outdoors since 6:00 that morning.

Saturday, the day I went, was an intermittently beautiful fall day, between downpours. And who cares about a few puddles? When it was raining, I sheltered in buildings full of vendors of magical fiber goods. (What was the problem again?) This display, for instance, of bright hand-painted boucle yarns from Dancing Leaf Farm couldn't help but dispel any gloom.

I wasn't a bit gloomy. And did I find myself some treats? Oh yes, you bet I did. This is why I've been concentrating on using up some of the yarn I already have stockpiled, so I can enjoy finding myself some new treasures.

My only regret? I didn't win the spinning wheel or the loom in the raffle. Guess I'll have to try for another year. :)

On the Bright Side

I do this because I love it. I do this because I love it. Just a couple more times, and I'll be convinced.

For our recent road trip, I needed some knitting to do. I was in a rush and needed to pick out a project quickly. (After that, I packed clothes. Most essential things first.)

I've been trying to use up some of the yarn already sitting around the house, and I had a pile of Patons Classic worsted-weight yarn in a pretty heathery color. I needed a skein of something basic to do homework for a class at Stitches last year, grabbed it from a local big-box store, and found I liked it. Rather than waste what was left over, I bought several skeins more so I could make something out of it. This seemed as good a time as any.

After a hurried flip through a couple of books and magazines, I settled on Opulent Raglan, from the Fall 2008 issue of KnitScene. That issue had several beautiful sweaters that are on my want-to-knit list. The particular one I picked is a top-down raglan by Wendy Bernard, with a big cable decoration down the front and 3/4 length sleeves with ruffled cuffs. I decided to make it with long sleeves instead.

Things went along smoothly as we drove around western North Carolina. It was pleasant, easy knitting for the car, and I had this much done by the time we got back.

I've generally knit sweaters in the typical bottom-up-and-seam style in the past, and it was interesting seeing a whole sweater emerging in my lap as I knit.

Since we got back, amongst spinning and sock-knitting and festival-going and a quick overnighter out of town, and Halloween, I've managed to get the rest done.

Taking full advantage of the top-down construction's try-on-ability to check the fit, I made some adjustments, and did some re-knitting here and there as needed. This morning, I confidently wove in the last of the ends, feeling very pleased to have it done, tried it on one more time in preparation for getting a good photo, and...

The sleeves aren't long enough. This isn't a knock on Wendy Bernard's pattern, of course, since I was modifying it for full-length sleeves. It was my own doing. I adjusted the sleeve length carefully as I went. I'm not sure trying it on while in progress worked in my favor. At that point, the neckline was a lot looser and deeper. What I failed to take into account is how much the last step of adding the neckband would tighten up and raise the whole works, sleeves and all.

So I'm not done. I have to rip out the belled cuffs, lengthen the sleeves, and re-knit them. On the bright side, the rest of the sweater is very nice. It could be worse. It's just the sleeves, after all.

I do this because I love it. I do this because I love it....

Friday, October 23, 2009

In the Mountains and Clouds

World's-most-patient-husband and I were in the mood last week for a quick getaway and decided to take a driving vacation. I, though, was a little anxious about losing a week of spinning time. I'd just added all that new spinning fiber to my stocks at the Fall Fiber Festival and there was another much-anticipated fiber festival coming up very soon. World's-most-patient-husband, unprompted, bless his heart, said "why don't you bring along the spinning wheel?" I took him up on that one like a shot.

So we packed up and drove south through Virginia and right on out the bottom. Then we turned west and headed for the North Carolina mountains. The weather was cold and rainy; often the mountains looked something like this. But that's beautiful too, in its own way, and we were happy to be wandering. We played it by ear, deciding each day where to go the next.

We spent one night in Boone, the home of Appalachian State University, which turned out to be full of small, unexpected pleasures. It has antique shops and a crafts gallery and an honest-to-goodness old-time drugstore counter where you can sit and have a meal. It has a shoe store that also serves as a yarn shop, a combination I've certainly never seen before. It has a hundred-year-old general store full of knitted goods and hiking clothes. Having come on the trip well supplied with handknits but without anything for such wet and cold weather, I was grateful to find myself a warm waterproof jacket there.

It has an excellent cafe for breakfast and lunch called Melanie's, a little funky and full of character, with bright colors and interesting art and fifties dinette tables. Everything, but everything, there is home-made, down to the granola and the yogurt on the fresh fruit cup.

Then it was onward. The foliage was just beginning to change, and the views were occasionally breathtaking. We took a small and very scenic road that wound its way circuitously among the mountains, past Blowing Rock, a beautifully situated town with lots of shops and restaurants.

We made our way on to Asheville, a place I've always wanted to visit, but had somehow never made it to before. It turned out to be a bigger city than I pictured, a little bohemian and artsy in personality, and rich, it seems, in brewpubs. We spent an afternoon at Biltmore, the enormous mansion built by the Vanderbilts at the turn of the century. It is quite something. It's just a bit reminiscent of Versailles (though bigger!) Almost as impressive as the house are the grounds, designed by Olmstead, who is also responsible for New York's Central Park.

We wandering around afterwards in an area nearby known as Biltmore Village, where all the shops and restaurants are built in a quaint German style -- even the couple of fast-food chain outlets are in character. There we chanced upon this inviting sight: the aptly named Yarn Paradise. And what would a trip be without a little yarn-shop tourism?

But, perhaps luckily for me, it was already closed for the day. After all, I'd packed the essentials with me on the trip: four knitting projects and three batches of spinning fiber. I didn't want to chance running out.

The shop did look awfully appealing when I peered in through the leaded panes of the front door, with gorgeous sample projects, beautiful yarn displays, and what looked like a warm, welcoming atmosphere.

Back in downtown Asheville, we had a top-notch dinner at a stylish spot called Posana. Oddly, it seems to be more of a coffee-shop with light food during the week and only serves dinner on a couple of nights. I get the feeling it may be a brilliant new place just on its way up. In any case, I can't stop thinking about the trout with sun-dried tomatoes and capers I had there, and the walnut cake with orange-and-tea-flavored cream. It was a happy find for us.

After a couple of nights, we turned and started working our way back toward home, searching for barbecue along the way. I realize that, ironically, I was leaving Asheville just days before people gathered there for the Southeastern Animal Fiber Fair, but sometimes a near miss is what comes of impulse traveling. I will just have to put it on my list for some future visit.

Oh yes, Rastro the spinning wheel did get a work-out in several hotel rooms. With the wheel, and a duffel bag of accessories, and a giant tote bag of fiber, and a separate large knitting bag, I was quite a cumbersome traveler. But it was a lot of fun to sit and spin here and there along the way.

If I'd brought a stool and the weather had been better, I might have set it up who-knows-where. Scenic overlooks off the highway?

Maybe next trip. :)

Friday, October 16, 2009

Oh, Nothing

Or, just what was that under that new shawl pin?

Oh, this, you mean? Well, why on earth didn't you say so?

Just my new Noro sweater that I've finished and am absolutely thrilled with, that's all. It's knit in Noro Silk Garden (silk, kid mohair, and lamb's wool) in color 221 on US size 9 (5.5mm) needles. It took ten 50-gram skeins -- a bag I'd bought from the Woolstock booth at the 2008 Stitches East event in Baltimore, Maryland.

It's a distant cousin of sweater number 1 in the Fall 2009 issue of Vogue Knitting, by Coralie Meslin. I borrowed the neckline and armhole shaping, but made a few changes. Just to the collar, ribbings, surface design, length, and silhouette. Nothing much.

Since every sweater needs a name, I'm calling this one Sassafras. I am so happy with this sweater, I can't even tell you. It fits beautifully, and the cut is flattering. I made it slightly a-line in shape so that it would hang instead of clinging. The colors somehow seem to go with every pair of pants in my closet. I love the drama of that big, extravagant collar.

When I got it done and sewn together, I knew I liked it, and I thought it looked pretty good. I went ahead and wore it before I had any way to fasten it. But with the overlapping fronts and collar hanging slack, it still wasn't quite what it could be. It needed a beautiful closure to reach its full potential. So I suppose I went to the Fall Fiber Festival seeking closure. :)

I really wanted to wear this sweater at the fiber festival itself, to wear my handiwork among fellow knitters. And maybe show it off, just a little, I admit. As it happened, the day was just too warm (and beautiful), so it stayed in the car. But the thing is a knitter magnet. I've worn Sassafras several times now, and wherever I go, knitters approach me and ask about it.

What more could I ask? A sweater I love to wear and get to talk to other knitters about!

Saturday, October 10, 2009

More to Love

There were a few more things I haven't mentioned yet that I really enjoyed about last weekend's Fall Fiber Festival. One big one was a chance to see a blog friend in person! (Hi, Puff :) There might have been a couple more, but Robin has moved far away, and though TheQueen was there, I didn't spot her. Most likely, my eyes were on the fiber.

Ah yes, the fiber. This year I barely visited the animal tent, the skein and garment competition or the fleeces. I had eyes only for fiber. I'm trying to be good, really I am. After all, I already have far more yarn and fiber at home than there's any sensible reason for. I've sworn off buying sock yarn until knitting down a bunch of what I already have. In fact, I've mostly sworn off buying finished yarn in general until I knit down the stocks a bit. For now, I'm buying only spinning fiber. And I'm trying to limit even that to less than replacement quantities for what I spin, knit, and use up.

I didn't do too badly. I've finished two sweaters lately, so I was able to pick out a few treasures at the festival without guilt. Let me show you what I found!

First is the deep plum-colored roving (from the last post right after the doughnuts). It's a cloudy day today, so I can't quite capture its true personality, but this is luscious stuff. It's a blend of wool, mohair, and alpaca from Karen at Avalon Springs Farm, in Mt. Airy, Maryland. She's a first-time vendor at the festival, and I'm glad I caught her while she still had a nice big bin of this fiber. I bought a sweater's worth.

There's a small twist, for me, in that it has just a bit of sparkly Firestar blended in. I have never worked with that, but I could not resist these colors. I'll be interested to see how much the sparkle shows up in the finished yarn, and I'll think carefully about what sort of a sweater it will suit.

From Pat and Steve Harder's Kid Hollow Farm in Free Union, Virginia, the source of last year's fluffy brushed mohair, I bought some wool and mohair roving in two colorways. This one is called Violet Turquoise Spot. It looks quite subtle and grayish, which is lovely in itself. But I think it will darken when spun and show more of its violet and turquoise nature.

This is the other one, Northern Lights. I seem to be stuck on the violet and turquoise theme, don't I? It also has hints, though, of a strong dark pink that isn't really showing in the picture.

I picked these out and bought a half-pound of each with the assistance of the wonderful Puff, who helps out in Pat and Steve's booth. But why only half a pound? Well, as I said, I'm trying very hard to be good. It takes me about one and a half pounds of fiber for a handspun sweater. I figured finishing two sweaters got me roughly three pounds of allowance for buying more fiber. Between the plummy roving and these, I had kept it to two and a half pounds, for extra credit.

So I went ahead and bought a couple of ounces of this combed Shetland top from The Flock Bransonas, in Staunton, Virginia, in the colorway Aurora.

I actually already had some of this. I bought one little ounce a couple of years ago to sample Shetland wool. I spun some of it laceweight on a handspindle and loved it. Last year I bought another ounce. Adding another two ounces gives me about 110g, enough for some sort of a lacey scarf or shawl.

Later, out of idle curiosity, I calculated the actual weight of yarn and fiber used in my two recent sweaters. The commercial yarn used up, it turned out, weighed less than my rule-of-thumb quantity, and that last two ounces of Shetland put me over my replacement weight. Oh, well. I blew it, but it's worth it.

My last find, thankfully not subject to my self-imposed limit, was this shawl pin of wenge wood from Knitting Notions in Nashville, Tennessee. There were dozens of them, in different domestic and exotic woods, all unique, as handcrafted things are. I loved this one, which reminds me of a chess piece.

Oh, what's that it's stuck into, you ask? Just never you mind! (I'll tell you later.)

And of course, I bought those delicious apple cider doughnuts and gobbled them on the spot. And that makes more of me to love, too. :)

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

On the Meadows of Montpelier

Such delights to be found.

Last weekend was the Fall Fiber Festival on the grounds of James Madison's Montpelier mansion, in Orange, Virginia. This festival has become one of my favorites. I'm not very selective, perhaps. All three of the fiber festivals I frequent are my favorite, in one way or another. But it's not a bad state of affairs, to be always enjoying a favorite, every time.

I love the drive out through Virginia's rolling countryside. World's-most-patient-husband drove with me this year, making the drive that much more enjoyable.

I love getting into the town of Orange, the excitement building as the destination nears.

I love how the tents are spread out upon the meadow, making it feel like a country fair.

I love strolling the relaxed, grassy midway, and occasionally coming upon calm, sociable animals wandering through to be admired.

I love the tents stuffed with fascinating goods for spinners and knitters and browsers of all stripes, and the many good-natured, hospitable vendors.

I love the displays and the sample skeins and the knowledge- able shoppers, judiciously evaluating their selections.

I love the sheepdogs and the shepherds, and their amazing joint skill, and the serious competitive trials unfolding alongside the festival tents throughout the day.

I love the famous cider doughnuts that I'd heard of but only found for the first time this year. (Delicious.)

I love bringing some of it home with me.

Sunday, September 20, 2009

That Elusive Stopping Place

I'll put the knitting down and take care of a few other things, as soon as I get to a stopping place....

First of all, thank you, everyone! for saying such nice things about the Chanel-ish jacket. I'm very happy and very relieved that it turned out so well. And as for a photo with jingly necklaces? Well, even if I piled on all my various necklaces, I'm not sure I could achieve quite the right jingly effect, so that may have to wait a while. :)

So what did I do to entertain myself once the jacket was happily finished? I knit. Yes, I pretty much immediately grabbed some yarn and got to work. The knitting urge is strong this time of year. I had a bag of 10 skeins of Noro Silk Garden yarn, of mohair, silk, and lambswool, and I just really wanted to knit it.

I settled in one morning with a cappucino at Starbucks and stitched away contentedly. To be honest, I wasn't even especially clear on where I was going with it; I just wanted to be going. That's kind of rare for me.

I don't think, generally, that I'm what people refer to as a "process knitter" at all. I do enjoy the actual knitting very much, but I don't do it just to enjoy the motion and the beautiful yarn running through my hands. I do it to be able to create pretty things.

That's assuming, of course, that all goes well. But after all the hand-wringing and problem-solving are over, I usually do come out the other side with something I can feel good about. The out-and-out failures are, thank goodness, few and far between.

This time, I was impatient with mapping things out carefully ahead of time. I had seen a pattern in the current issue of Vogue Knitting that I thought might adapt well to the Noro striping and my 10 skeins of yarn, and I had a loose idea of what I was aiming for. (It's "Long Coat," by Coralie Meslin, pattern number 1 in the Fall 2009 Vogue Knitting, if you happen to have a copy handy.) Of course, the pattern is for a long coat with a fitted waist, and a giant sunburst design in the stitch pattern on one side, none of which I wanted. But I was quite attracted to the neckline, collar, and asymmetrical closure, and I pictured the characteristic Noro striping running along the collar and making a nice diagonal contrast to the body.

I plunged in, making decisions as I went. I decided on a cropped, high-hip length. It evolved somehow that it would be an a-line silhouette. I changed the ribbing style and depth. I left out the short-row sunburst. (It's really rather nice, but wouldn't have been the easiest to adapt to the truncated length -- and with the striping yarn, there would already be enough going on.) At least the gauge stayed the same.

The last couple of weekends, I had a number of things I really needed to get done, though. House things, and pants-hemming things, and thank-you note things, and what-have-you. I planned to put aside the knitting. After all, I'd just finished a sweater. I did pick it up a couple of times, just to knit a row or two. Or maybe a couple more. Maybe just far enough to see the next color transition. Maybe to the top of the ribbing. Or until it's time to start the armhole shaping. Oh, I'm so close, I might as well finish off the back.

Yes, I'll put it down, just as soon as I get to a stopping place. Really.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

... And Pulled Out a Plum

The Chanel-ish Cardigan Jacket is done, and everything has turned out better than I could have hoped.

Yes, I stuck in my thumb, all right. It all began with some dubious wool bought in a triumph of bargain-hunting over judgment. I'm stubborn, though, and the colors were pretty. So during last year's Tour de Fleece spinning event, I forged ahead and spun it into an attractive but not very touchable 3-ply yarn.

Though from humble beginnings, this yarn was eager to put on airs. Its nubby, tweedy look reminded me from the beginning of those thick, hairy, multicolored tweeds that are made into boxy Chanel-style jackets worn by polished-looking women with jingling necklaces and freshly touched-up lipstick. While the polish and jingling are not my typical style, the yarn did seem like it would work well in that kind of jacket. It told me so from the very first skein, once I saw the plies of charcoal, turquoise, and lavender twisted together.

I knew exactly the pattern I wanted to use, too. It is a trim, nice-looking design by Mary-Heather Cogar, published in Greetings from Knit Cafe, by Suzan Mischer. Mary-Heather's design is in worsted weight yarn, worked in a two-color stitch pattern reminiscent of a houndstooth check.

The Yarnstruck version, on the other hand, needed to be in a bulky weight yarn, on US size 11 (8 mm) needles, in one busy color. Just a bit different. A minor obstacle. I swatched and charted and converted, decided on a double moss stitch for texture, and launched the knitting.

(In the photo, you can see the eye-popping pocket lining peeking out. Christina suggested giving the whole jacket a lining, which is an interesting idea, especially as it would free me from always wearing long sleeves underneath for protection against this somewhat itchy wool. But that's more work, and, for now, I just want to declare it done. So for the time being, following the suggestion from Puff, I'll just consider it whimsical. :)

The bulky-weight knitting ate up the skeins of handspun at an alarmingly fast clip. After a while, it looked as if I wouldn't have enough left for the long sleeves. After knitting the body , I weighed the yarn that remained for the sleeves, and things did not look optimistic. OK, three-quarter length sleeves? Or even shorter? The only way to find out was to dive in and knit the first sleeve. Well, so what if the second sleeve has to be shorter. Asymmetry is in! Fashion magazines are trying to convince us to wear one-shouldered tops. Ha!

I was nervous, though, I'll say that much. As sleeve #1 grew longer, and the remaining skeins dwindled, I started thinking fondly of 7/8 length sleeves. I started the shoulder cap shaping a couple of inches early, hoping it would help just enough to let me eke out the other sleeve. And what a relief when it did. Barely.

I sewed up the seams (with other yarn, less bulky and more plentiful), and tried it the jacket on, holding my breath. What do you know? It fit, and it had full-length long sleeves! My theory is that there's enough spring in that stitch pattern that the fabric lengthens a little once it relaxes a bit. Whatever it is, it works for me.

With a light heart, I went ahead and worked the edging in a contrasting color of worsted weight yarn. (Lamb's Pride, from Brown Sheep Company, in Deep Charcoal. Lovely, lovely, single-ply wool with a touch of mohair, left over from a successful and happy past sweater project.)

It's all done, almost exactly as I pictured it, and I'm just waiting for cool enough weather to wear it to work and show it off.

And I had all this yarn left over. Three rags and tags. It would have been enough, I estimate, for about one more entire row across both sleeves.

What, me worry?

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Up to My Armpits

... in nubby, tweedy knitting.

I've been busily working on the Chanel-ish Cardigan in bulky-weight handspun. It doesn't look like much yet, but on the whole I think it's coming along fine. My gauge seems to be pretty much as predicted from the swatch I knit, which means the jacket will be more or less the size I'm aiming for, all good news.

The jacket is knit from the bottom up in one piece until it splits to make the armholes. I've just about reached the splitting point now. There are pockets knit in along the way -- you can see the pocket flaps in the photo. (To help sort out what you're looking at, other than a generally messy blob of knitting, the north of the jacket is the upper right of the picture.)

The pockets did pose a minor dilemma along the way. They are not anchored like patch pockets to the inside, but hang loose inside as separate pouches. I'm guessing this is to keep from interfering with the way the jacket hangs smoothly in the front. But it does mean that where each pockets is, there are three layers of fabric -- the jacket front itself, and two layers of pocket lining. With a bulky-weight yarn, I thought this would add up to quite a thick wad, which might in itself interfere with the smooth line of the jacket.

After pondering this for a while, I decided to make the pocket linings out of a lighter weight yarn to slim them down. Since the pockets are knit in instead of sewn on, that meant an interesting little challenge of changing stitch counts to match the width at the opening, but all worked out, thank goodness. Of course, there was not the ghost of a chance of finding a worsted-weight match for this crazy tri-colored marled handspun yarn. So I used a contrasting but (I hope) sympathetic solid color left over from a long-ago sweater project. I did think about using black, especially since the plan is to finish the sweater with a contrast edge in black or charcoal. But where's the fun in that?

Still, I hope the jacket won't gape open too much at the front, because a glimpse of that wild pocket inside could be eye-popping. :) Back to work now.

Friday, August 14, 2009

Into the Woods

World's-most-patient-husband and I got away from our normal haunts for a weekend recently. We journeyed to Blackwater Falls State Park in West Virginia. What a beautiful place. So distant from the bustle of our daily life. Only the rustle of the brush and the rush of the water.

The falls are powerful, and the water is stained "black," evidently, by tannin from ancient trees.

On the way to the park, we saw signs of energy production old and new: coal mines and windmills. I didn't realize that we had windmills already in operation in this part of the country. Yet here they were. These things are enormously tall.

Later, as we drove around, we had dramatic views of a whole bank of them along a ridge against the sky.

Once we arrived at the park, we got to the falls by a hike through dappled woods, with moderate terrain, lots of mud, and even a bit of scrambling up and down rocks. It was only a mile or so each way from where we began, but harder work and a longer time than I expected.

I don't know why I forget that ferns are a woodland plant -- I know they didn't evolve simply by living in pots -- but here they were in profusion. The path grew iffy at times, and we missed seeing the yellow blazes that marked it. The beautiful surroundings seemed almost spooky then, when we looked around and saw trackless woods in every direction. But we knew we weren't far from the road into the park and could have clambered across to find it if we had to. That didn't turn out to be necessary, as we managed to backtrack and find the path again each time.

If I were a skilled dyer, I would have been inspired with lots of new colorways. I saw them everywhere, in the mosses and barks, in the stone, and sometimes in strange red mushrooms.

As we left the park, tired, hungry, and ready to head for the town where we would stay that night, expecting to settle for fast food or a chain restaurant for dinner, we spotted a surprising and welcome sight: a brewpub. World's-most-patient-husband slewed the car around instantly. I don't think we squealed the tires.

And Blackwater Brewing Company is quite a good brewpub, with the brewing equipment right there behind the bar, excellent ales, and a specialty in good German food. I had a very nice porter, most fortifying after my afternoon walking in the woods.

We were even more surprised, as we drove away later, to see a second brewpub beckoning within a few miles. We really hadn't expected such a rural area to have so much quality beer to offer. We were ready to make a beeline to our hotel, though, for showers and relaxation, so we didn't stop and can't vouch for that one.

It was just an other-worldly and refreshing day and the kind of thing we should do more often.

Friday, August 7, 2009

Summer Knitting -- What Else?

What Else But Socks?

I've finished off a few socks that I haven't shown off properly yet. Some of these were actually knit in the spring, but socks do make good summer knitting. They don't demand too much attention, and are small enough not to block too much sun when I'm outside basking in the warmth. And of course, in the torpid summer weather we get around here, they're a lot more appealing than a big woolly lapful of sweater-in-progress!

First up were my good-humored-brother's Christmas socks. (As I recall, I joked that I expected to be finished with my Christmas knitting by about the 4th of July. Some joke, it turns out!) These socks are my own design; I call them Sidecar Socks. They're knit with Trekking XXL on US size 1 needles. My brother seemed to want something pretty plain, so I kept them as simple as I could stand. Even so, I couldn't resist giving them a little ribbing down the front and clocks to their sides. They're with their owner now, and I hope they fit. But in the hot weather, I didn't have the heart to demand that he try on his new woollen socks.

The bad news about knitting large men's socks is that they take more than the standard 100 grams of yarn and I end up scrambling for more. Some yarn-shopping day, maybe I'll remember that large men's socks are best knit with yarn that comes in 50-gram skeins so I don't need to buy so much extra.

The good news is that I tend to end up with plenty of leftovers. Which means... more socks for me!

This is another pair of my own design. I call these my Blackthorn Socks. It's the same Trekking XXL yarn, of course, and US size 1 needles again. I really like the color variation in this yarn. It's brown, but there's a world of purples and greens and golds in there if you look closely. I entertained myself with a little more decoration and a few slightly tricky features on these.

And bringing up the rear are these. This is the Dublin Bay pattern, knit in Socks That Rock lightweight in the Scottish Highlands colorway. Clearly I have some sort of pan-Celtic thing going on here. I enjoyed the colors, and thought of gorse and bracken, heather and brooding mountains as I knit. The high-contrast striping was entertaining and created a particularly nice effect in the eye-of-partridge heel that the pattern called for.

Of course, with a high-contrast striping yarn and a standard gusset-heel sock design, there are hazards. When you turn the heel and pick up the gusset stitches, you change the number of stitches in each round. And as you gradually decrease back to the original stitch count, the color repeats that create the stripes are drifting around, until almost inevitably -- eek, a splotch!

Well, phooey. Why get excited about it? Just bring on some more iced tea and summer reading, and we'll all be fine.