Tuesday, March 31, 2009

Bandying About

Things are rolling again on my trim-athletic-dad's Christmas I.O.U. sweater.

I'm glad about that. I feel the need to hurry, as the trees are showing this suspicious white stuff. If it were really spring, I'd say they were alight with drifts of blossoms. But since I require it to still be mid-winter, when sensible people knit heavy sweaters, perhaps they're frosted instead with snow.

I was actually driving, this afternoon, down a fairly nondescript stretch of highway that just happened to have cherry or pear trees flowering along both sides of the road. For an instant, perhaps because of the way the late afternoon sun was lighting them up from behind, I honestly got the impression of a snowy day. The trees looked as they sometimes do the day after a snowfall. Not the heavy kind that weighs down the boughs, but a light snow that leaves them glinting and refreshed in the brilliant sunshine. It was a beautiful illusion.

Luckily, things are moving along again. I'm beginning to see the finish line up ahead.

I found some good hearty buttons that work well with the tweedy wool.

I also got busy and swatched the technique for knitting the bands on vertically. While it was a little persnickety, with much pulling up and tightening of loops, it did produce a nice well-fitted band with hardly any exertion of the little gray brain cells and nary a vestige of a seam on the back. With virtues like that, it was clearly a winner.

So I buckled down and got back to work, and got both the front buttonbands done, complete with buttonholes on the correct masculine side. All that remains to be done is seaming, knitting on a collar, finishing the pocket-tops and slip-stitching them down. And sewing on the buttons. And weaving in all the ends. And blocking the whole works.

Well, I guess there's a lot yet to be done after all. But as long as I'm moving again, we'll soon get there!

Saturday, March 28, 2009

What Else To Do When Not Knitting

Occasionally, knitting and I need to give each other a little distance, just for a short while. It's good for the relationship. And when this happens, there's more time to indulge one of my other loves, reading.

But, this time, I can only conclude that I'm pining for the one I've set aside. For what have I been reading about? Sheep.

More specifically, the book I've just read is one described as "a sheep detective story," a genre strangely neglected by most mystery writers. Thankfully, though, we have Leonie Swann, who has written Three Bags Full.

I had seen this book mentioned in the knitting and spinning magazines over the last year or two, and it sounded interesting. I was bursting with curiosity but had reading material already stockpiled like yarn and spinning fiber. I really didn't need to buy another book to add to the teetering pile on my nightstand. So I did the next best thing. I gave it to a knitting friend as a Christmas gift. She, once she had read it, turned around and lent it to me, bless her heart. Clearly, resistance had been futile.

In this very original tale, a flock of sheep near a village in the British Isles discover that their shepherd has been slain. Leaderless, they are at a loss and don't know what to do, but they eventually resolve to find out what happened to him. For the rest of the book, they do what they can to sort it out. But these are not anthropomorphized little people in woolly coats. They are sheep, who think as sheep might, about the things sheep care about. They long for succulent grass and herbs and sweet smells. They are skittish and uncertain if separated from the comfort of their fellows. They understand human speech rather well (their shepherd used to read aloud, of an evening, you see), but they really don't understand much about people and their ways. The story follows them as they puzzle out what they can about the humans, who the people are, why they act as they do, and what really happened.

The quality of the writing is enjoyable. Though written in German and translated into English, seldom does anything strike the ear as odd. The author also seems quite familiar with details of life in barn and pasture that I know little of, but that seemingly ring true. The central mystery of the story was enough to keep my attention, though it's not really suspenseful. And I confess I still found myself a bit muddled at the end when all had been explained. But maybe that's in part a reflection of the complexity of people and their messy affairs, especially as viewed from the simpler perspective of the sheep. And, in fact, it's the characters of the sheep that are the real joy of this book. Each is an individual, and one comes to know them well as they struggle with their own weaknesses but still try to do right by their shepherd.

All in all, it's a delightful book. I'm glad I was on time-out from the knitting for long enough to read it.

Thursday, March 26, 2009

More Snakes (or Noodles)

Sometimes I rush headlong through my knitting, and sometimes I get stuck. Right now I'm stuck.

I have buttonbands to do. It's not that there's anything that difficult about them. I have a little uncertainty about whether to knit them on horizontally, picking up all along the edges and knitting just a few long rows, or vertically. The Rowan book seems very fond of a technique in which you knit a very long strip a few stitches wide and then sew it onto the edge. I'm not at all fond of this idea, myself. It seems like asking for trouble. But I found an interesting technique in Judith Durant's book, Never Knit Your Man A Sweater, for knitting a band on vertically, picking up the edge on every other row. That looks as if it would create much the same effect. So, as I said, I'm not sure about the best way to go. But that would soon be remedied with a good determined session of swatching. It's not really the uncertainty. It's really more that I just need to work up a good head of steam to do button bands.

I'm distinctly deficient in that kind of steam locomotion at the moment. Here's a pretty good indication: on my last couple of airline trips, I haven't brought any knitting along. I even have a pair of socks underway that would be good travellers. But there they sat wistfully at home wondering what it's like to fly on an airplane. Those buttonbands were looming, and I needed a break from knitting until I'm ready to tackle them.

Spinning, on the other hand, has no such baggage. And I had more of those roving snakes -- or noodles -- whichever one wants to call them. Either way, a sampler's delight. I've had no project in mind, I've just been playing. Here are a few of them. I suppose they do look a bit snakey, but in the most cuddly possible way.

What I did generally was to choose two or three snakes in what looked like compatible colors. I split each one lengthwise into four parts, and then I used them to make matching bobbins with long repeats. One from column A, one from column B, one from column C, repeat. I thought they might make Noro-like color changes. And if it didn't really turn out that way, that was OK. No garment depended on it.

That particular combination of colors in the last photo made these interesting-looking bobbins.

And plying and skeining made them look like this.

I was having so much fun, I did it a few more times.

Of course, when I finally finish making interesting yarn out of all the snakes, I'll have to figure out what to do with it. I have somewhere between 50 and 150 yards in each skein, in a loose interpretation of worsted weight. The yardage depended on whether one, two, or three snakes went into the colorway. That apple green, for instance, looked too startling combined with any other color, so it got a whole skein to itself.

So, what on earth, I'm wondering, will I be able to make out of small amounts of so many different colors without ending up looking like a jester?

Well, I'm not sure, but I guess I'll worry about that another day. After all, I've still got two snakes left. Fiddle-de-dee!

Wednesday, March 18, 2009

A Welcome Burst of Color

I've been working lately on quite a parade of neutrals -- two gray sweaters, a pair of brown socks. No wonder that, after the first gray sweater, for my tall-elegant mom, a brightly colored handspun vest burst out of nowhere. Now I've finished knitting all the main pieces of the second gray sweater for my trim-athletic-dad, and the urge for color has struck again. I do love the neutrals -- they're classic and often just what a sweater should be -- but between a long stint of neutral-colored knitting and a short spell of dull drizzly weather, a shot of boisterous, jangly color is most welcome.

So I turned back momentarily to spinning. I had some "snakes" of rainbow-dyed wool I bought a festival season or two back from Delly's Delights. Why snakes, you might wonder. Well, as I recall, it's actually what they were labeled as, for one thing. But in fact I think that was because they were 30-inch-or-so lengths of roving heaped and swimming in a bin. I could say writhing, I suppose, but that's an unattractive image, and I assure you they were most appealing. They remind me more of the buoyant foam "noodles" that young children use as a swimming aid than of snakes.

Whatever you call them, they were perhaps not the most sensible purchase. I think they're actually intended for felters rather than spinners, as the ends are bluntly chopped in a slightly wince-inducing manner. The cut short fibers at the ends are unusable waste for spinners, but must not be of concern for felting. Nevertheless, I couldn't stay away from the bin. The short lengths of roving gave me a chance to sample lots of color variations while -- if carefully chosen -- offering opportunities for harmonious blending. All that at nominal cost and without major commitment of spinning time. And all at a time when I was just getting started spinning and hadn't tried anything but natural undyed colors. Well, it was just irresistible, that's all.

I braided some of them together to get an idea of how their colors would work together (tucking the cut ends carefully out of sight, of course.)

How did they look? They looked gorgeous.

They spun up into beautiful bobbins. I prattled and cooed with pleasure as I spun them.

I stayed up way too late.

And once plied, they made a skein of devastatingly pretty yarn.

Aaahhh. That hit the spot. I'm refreshed and ready to start thinking about the button bands and collar and seams to finish a classic gray sweater.

I'm happy to say there are more noodles where those came from. For the next emergency. :)

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Spring Plays Its Tricks

The weather around here has fluctuated wildly in the last week or so, from 10 degrees Fahrenheit and inches of snow to short-sleeves-and-sandals temperatures, sending my attitude toward knitting ricocheting back and forth in turn.

On an unexpectedly warm, bright day, I start feeling foolish stirrings. Sitting on the couch with knitting needles and a hot lapful of wool begins to seem like a chore instead of a pleasure. I hardly know what to do, whether to persevere stubbornly or rush outside and run madly in circles on the lawn, kicking up my heels like a springtime lamb. Or limber up for an energetic burst of spring cleaning, giving a bathroom a scrubbing of unexceeded thoroughness. Or some of each.

I start thinking restlessly of other crafts. This is not unprecedented. After all, I've never been exclusive about knitting, though I guess I've been closer to it lately than ever before. These days, it's easy and fun to stay focused on knitting, with a whole on-line community of excited people cheering each other on, giving encouragement, showing off their feats, unearthing or creating interesting patterns.

Nevertheless, I've also in the past enjoyed sewing, crocheting, cross-stitching, needlepoint, and what have you. (And, of course, lately, there's the spinning.) I love to learn about this and that and try things out. Crafts as-yet-untried beckon still. There are plenty of unexplored frontiers. I'm curious about bobbin lace, and tatting, and lucets, and who knows what all else. Even the knitting bloggers tempt, from time to time, with other crafts. (If I end up experimenting with rug-hooking, Robin, I'll lay that directly at your door!)

So it's a good thing for me and for dad's sweater that the weather has lately taken another swing back toward winter. Tonight's prediction is for freezing temperatures and a possibility of snow.

With a nip again in the air, I've been moving along again briskly. But last night, as I was finishing up the second sleeve, I noticed that something didn't seem to be adding up quite right. Compared to sleeve number one, number two seemed to be taking a few extra rows past the last increase to get to the same point in the pattern. I examined and compared them carefully, mystified, meticulously counting the rows between increases.

Finally, I spotted something. Do you notice anything strange about the second diamond in the picture? That's right, it's smaller than the others. I'd gotten over-eager and turned the corner before it reached its full size. The mistake was 13 inches down the sleeve. 13 time-consuming inches of cabled knitting. Well, no matter. There was no help for it. I wasn't going to leave it that way. Even if I could live with a visible mistake (and often not), I couldn't do it on a sleeve. Sleeves must match.

So back out it came. But that's okay.

Unlike the groundhog, I'm hoping for a few more weeks of winter.

Friday, March 6, 2009

Slowly Taking Shape

Well, Christmas is coming right along. An early start? Oh, no, no, would that it were so! It's last Christmas that I'm still working my way through. My tall-elegant-mom's fluffy mohair sweater is finished and delivered (to satisfyingly happy effect), and my good-humored brother's socks-in-progress have been rescued from the fate of contrasting toes by the lucky find of a matching skein. But it's my trim-athletic-dad's sweater that I'm mostly clicking along on lately.

It's been slowed down by the occasional interruption; here an urgent hand-spun vest, there a knit-less trip out of town, and even a few days of stomach bug (yuck; that one temporarily took the charm right out of knitting). But it's still chugging along.

Here, have a peek. After a couple of all- stockinette sweaters, I'm really enjoying these nice chunky cables. The yarn is a hearty one, Rowan's Scottish Tweed, in the Aran weight.

Dad's sweater is not going to be any one particular pattern. I had him look through a couple of books at Christmas-time to show me what kind of sweater he would like. After I got an idea of his preferences, what I came up with is going to be a distant cousin to the "Cable Jacket" pattern in Knitting for Him, by Martin Storey and Wendy Baker. (That's a lovely book, by the way, with a lot of nice, masculine sweaters that are classic but with interesting details. And, as in any Rowan book, you could lose yourself in the photographs, set in this case against the rugged seafront backdrop of a small town in Devon.)

It's a distant cousin to the sweater in the book because I'm departing from the neckline, collar style, shoulder style, cable layout, and a few other things. Though you can't see it in the photo I linked in above, the original has an asymmetric layout of cables that is just not the look I'm going for. But I love the basic cable pattern (a classic) and the pockets!

Of course, after making all these changes, I'll have only myself to blame if the end result doesn't measure up to what I'm envisioning. Or more realistically, I could end up doing some re-knitting and re-styling to make things work out, because I really want it to be nice.

I'd hoped to be further along by now (in March, for heaven's sake.) But I'm making good progress. I've got the back, both fronts, and part of one sleeve done.

At this rate, I shouldn't keep trim-athletic-dad waiting too much longer for his sweater. Or myself, anxiously waiting to see how it turns out.

Oh, the suspense!