Tuesday, September 30, 2008

We Interrupt this Tank Top

For some urgent knitting.

There's a big event coming up in Yarnstruck's world. I have felt for a while that it might call for some knitting, but I couldn't put my finger on exactly what. But a couple of days ago, while doing my appointed rounds of admiring knitting projects on the web, I bumped into a little wisp of something that seems just right.

The pattern called for a big-box-store yarn, in worsted weight. I went and looked at it, but decided this project needed something nicer; a touch of warmth, a touch of beauty. I headed for a local yarn store. I browsed, consulted the staff, and cogitated, looking around at the obvious, the unexpected, and the over-the-top. I finally settled on an option that I hope will work well.

I'm combining two yarns: a laceweight alpaca and silk and a fingering weight superwash merino wool. Specifically, it's Alpaca with a Twist Fino and Dale Baby Ull. Even together, they don't quite add up to worsted weight, but, well, that's why they make different sizes of needles. I figured I ought be able to get gauge, one way or another. And, oh, what a beautiful soft swatch they make.

I haven't worked with alpaca before. The alpaca and silk have a languorous drape. My first hint of this came when I untwisted the skein to tease loose an end to play with, and retwisted to put the skein back together. Try as I might, I couldn't seem to get enough twist in the hank of yarn to pull it through the skein. As soon as I brought it together to pull through, it was suddenly loose and relaxed. It seemed to lounge its way right out of the twist. Once I realized what was going on, it was interesting to watch. I'm not sure how much influence it will have, though, on the fluffier, less drape-y merino, once they're knit in together.

After the illustration of how the alpaca and silk yarn behaves, I decided I daren't wind it into a center-pull ball. I had a feeling that, as the yarn in the center was pulled out of the ball, it would quickly collapse on itself in a tangle. So I made an old-fashioned ball, and I put it in a bowl to knit from. There it can roll around as the thread pulls off, without tumbling onto the floor and skittering away picking up dust to sully the pristine white.

With the original worsted-weight yarn, the pattern calls for US size 7 needles, but after swatching, it appears I will be choosing between US sizes 10 and 10 1/2 to get the closest to gauge. Will I be better off trying to knit a little loosely with the smaller needles, or yank harder on the larger ones? I think it might hurt my heart to pull fiercely on this delicate yarn, so that might decide it.

In the meantime, I'm admiring the knitted result. I think it's very pretty the way, if you look closely, the soft wool fabric is shot through with the gleaming threads of alpaca and silk.

Working with lovely fibers, sometimes, feeds the soul.

Sunday, September 28, 2008

The Pasta of Chagrin

Hold the sauce, please.

I think I've mentioned how much the Colinette Wigwam yarn, in its unknit state, looks like linguine to me. See what I mean? It looks ready to go into a big pot of boiling salted water, there to soften and, in minutes, be ready to eat. Rather appetizing, really.

Yes, it does look like pasta. And I've now acquired the knowledge, I'm sorry to say, that it looks never more so than when a whole pile of it has been knit and ripped out.

In fact, it strongly resembles what, in the 1980s, at the height of the nouvelle cuisine affectation, might have been called a tangled nest of pasta. Here, let me see how well I can speak that dialect:
Perched atop a tangled nest of pasta, tinted with essence of pomegranate and squid ink, is a single perfectly poached succulent morsel of lobster. A luscious truffle reduction films the toothsome strands, and the whole exquisite composition is lapped in a beurre blanc flavored with tarragon flowers picked at their dewy peak just before dawn.
Bon appetit!

But let's get back to the knitting. I was flying along, happily knitting my second Crossed Laces tank, this time in Toscana, the colorway of my dreams. I had most of the back done, up to the armpits, and was ready to begin the armhole shaping. I cast off the specified number of stitches, and then counted the stitches remaining on the needles, for I have learned to be careful about these things. I glanced down at the instructions to see how many there should be. That's funny, thought I, I seem to have more stitches left than I cast on in the first place. That can't be right. I'd better count again. So I did. Again and again. I think I must have counted eight times in all.

It always came out the same. Something really must be wrong. I must have made a mistake and not cast on the right number of stitches in the first place. Oh, no! A mistake all the way back at the beginning. I could just live with it, but I didn't want to. Since I'd already made this tank once before, I knew just how I wanted it to fit. There was no help for it. I was going to have to rip the whole thing out and start over.

OK. Well, I wasn't happy about it, but this sort of thing happens once in a while. I would just have to bear up resolutely and get on with it. I needed to rip it out right down to the first cast-on stitch, and that's what I did. I'm a grown-up. I can take my medicine. If it has to be redone, that's all there is to it. But is there any feeling worse than sitting there among the wreckage, with the prospect of having to redo all that work, because of a mistake made at the very beginning?

Why, yes there is. There's the feeling you get -- seconds later -- when you go back to the instructions, disconsolate but resigned, to cast on all over again, and you notice... that you'd forgotten about the increase row that comes right after the edging. That you were supposed to have more stitches left after beginning the armhole shaping than you originally cast on. That there was nothing wrong with all that work you just ripped out. That you now have to redo it all for no reason whatsoever.

I really have to credit myself with exemplary self-control, at that point, for not having sent up an Arrrggh! that would have rent the heavens and registered on the Richter scale. I did, however, heave quite a few pained sighs in the direction of world's-most-patient-husband, looking for sympathy and recognition of my forbearance. He, however, remained unimpressed. "You know you love it," he said. Well, for a moment there, I wasn't so sure, myself.

Of course I got right back to work on it, grumbling under my breath. When I have to rip back because of a mistake, I can't stand to let it lie. I have to knit single-mindedly and implacably, maybe even a little grimly, until I've caught back up to where I was before. Stubborn, I admit. And this time, it was several days' work I'd lost.

So it's taken an exceptionally implacable weekend, but I've caught back up and then some. I've finished the back and started the front.

Happy days are here again.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Love is Love

The Crossed Laces tank top I knitted in Colinette's Pharaoh colorway, in the Wigwam cotton tape yarn, is a really nice top. I don't regret knitting it; I'm actually quite fond of it. The colors are attractive, it goes with everything, it fits nicely, I wear it with jeans or to work. I get compliments. People think it's nice. It's worthy. It does its homework, gets to bed on time and rises early. It eats right, doesn't get into trouble, and says sir and ma'am to its elders.

But in the Toscana colorway, it's love.

Who can say why that green shot through with raspberry, citron, here and there a stray streak of lavender should so tug at my heart? What does it have that the Pharaoh's blues and greens and reds and golds don't have? My undying devotion, that's what. You can't say why. Love is just love.

Yes, even after knitting the top in another colorway, I had to have Toscana. I ordered it. I awaited it with frustrated longing. I groaned with impatience when the e-mail arrived saying it was back-ordered. I counted the days, each day thinking, it could come today.

And on Saturday, finally, it did. I admired it, going back over and over again, between my daily activities, just to gaze upon it. With Stormwatch properly finished, its buttons done up, its husky warmth appreciated, a gusty sigh of relief heaved over the happy outcome of a troubled roving, I could wait no longer.

I cast on for another Crossed Laces tank top. Toscana, you're mine.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ready for the Weather

I now declare myself ready for the colder weather that's just around the corner. Why? Because my hand-spun Stormwatch sweater is here! It's a big woolly bear of a sweater. A cozy rag rug of a sweater. When I spun this yarn, I pictured a big slouchy cardigan, and by gum, that's what I got!

I was seriously worried about whether there was enough yarn to finish the Stormwatch sweater. I'd bought some inexpensive roving at a festival, described rather generically as "medium wool," that turned out to be, well, not a lovely high-quality fiber to work with. It was lumpy and full of neps, and maybe the less said about that the better. I labored mightily to turn this homely stuff into some sort of usable yarn, blending three colors together, and making a virtue of necessity by tolerating the lumps and aiming for a coarse, rustic yarn. So when this was gone, it would be gone.

About halfway through the Stormwatch sweater, I was really starting to fret. But then thank goodness for Bess, the sweet voice of reason, who suggested in the comments that if I ran short I might be able to do something nice with stripes in the sleeves, to make up any shortage with another harmonious yarn.

As it turned out, I had enough yarn and a bit more. (I'm glad I didn't design the sweater to be a single inch longer, though.) But I can't tell you how freeing it was to realize that if I didn't have enough, I could just call it a design feature and still wind up with a sweater. After that, I clicked light-heartedly away. Thanks, Bess!

Whenever I design my own sweater, though, I have worries to spare. Stormwatch is a saddle-shouldered design, which I haven't tried before. I wanted a scoop neck, but I wasn't sure how big to make it. I measured and eye-balled against some of the other sweaters in my closet, but didn't have a good feel for how the saddle shoulder design would affect it. It's a big wide-open neck, that's for sure. I thought I'd blown it. But when I got the buttons on today, it started looking a lot better. When I realized I could layer any kind of collar under it, even a big cowlneck, it looked a little better even yet. When my mom-in-law, who happened to be here for a visit, singled out the big open neckline for compliments, it started looking so much better I could almost convince myself if was intentional. :)

The Stormwatch yarn did indeed turn out to be bulky. (Portly, I think may be the word I was looking for.) The sweater is knit on US size 11 needles, at a gauge of 11 stitches/4 inches. Because of its bulk, when I seamed it up, I tried out a tip I'd seen but hadn't done before, which is to use a different, lighter-weight yarn to sew the seams.

I happened to have a partial ball of Dale Baby Ull lying around from a past baby bootie project, in a medium gray that blended perfectly with the complex blue-gray of Stormwatch. (A good omen for the project, maybe? And all the buttons being on sale when I went to the local fabric store in search of something suitable. Clearly the planets were aligning for this sweater.) It's a fingering weight 100% superwash wool yarn, and it was very lovely to work with in the booties project, I might add.

So the Baby Ull is what I used. It worked out swimmingly. I just might have to use that trick again, when working on a bulky project. It added practically no bulk at the seams. It was an interesting contrast, as well, between the nubby, grabby handspun and the smooth commercial superwash yarn. I can now understand why people refer to superwash wool as slippery. It certainly slipped through easily when I pulled up a thread to tighten a seam, that's for sure. Because of that, I was very careful to anchor the ends securely, weaving in a longer length and changing directions a few times.

All in all, I'm very pleased. I made a mistake buying a penny-wise pound-foolish bargain, but persevered and made something I'm happy with instead of giving it up for lost. I'm stubborn that way, I'm afraid. But I may have learned my lesson. I'm not that stubborn. I'll evaluate more carefully instead of just getting carried away by a sale. And, spinning novice that I still am, I learned a lot about what makes a fiber good to work with and what kinds of effects you get when it's not ideal. So all that was lost is some aggravation, and some imaginary smooth svelte sweater that it might have been if it were other wool.

And it's ended well, I must say. This is the kind of sweater that is so comfortable that, once I had it seamed up and tried it on, I was reluctant to take it off even to sew on the buttons. Something tells me I'll be living in this one, pulling it on by default whenever it's chilly and I need a little comfort. I didn't really know where I was going with my bargain roving, but I'm glad I wound up here. Welcome, Stormwatch!

Wednesday, September 10, 2008


Things have been awfully busy lately. Work has been pressing, and even my weekends have been spent thinking about it. This is something I do not normally encourage. If it weren't for a couple of chances to wear my new Crossed Laces tank with a natty blazer and collect a few compliments, I don't know what I'd have done for fun.

So life has been hurly- burly. One is only human, though, after all. Somehow I managed to get a chance to do some swatching with my hand-spun Stormwatch yarn.

It too might be called burly. Not hurly, though. That would just be unkind.

Burly, in fact, is quite a nice old-fashioned word. I seem to remember that, once, men who might now be referred to prosaically as overweight would instead have been called burly. (I don't think it was ever applied to women; it has such a doughty masculine air.) Stout or husky might have been in the rotation as well.

But the Stormwatch yarn, more precisely, has turned out to be bulky. By eye, I had thought perhaps worsted-weight, but my eye clearly needs more training. This yarn knits into a nice pliable fabric on US size 11 needles but cardboard on US size 9s. At a bulky gauge, it's husky, bumpy, and pleasantly not-quite-scratchy. And, by the way, I've figured out how to control the light balance on my camera, so the color in the picture is pretty close to reality.

As the weather freshens, the heavy hot air of summer has lifted, the days are shortening, and the nights are cooling, this yarn seems quite the thing. The sap is beginning to run through me, demanding that I knit hearty cold-weather sweaters. I don't know if sap runs in the fall, but if it rises in the spring, then surely it must have to migrate somewhere else for the winter.

So I've sketched out plans for a big enveloping rustic cardigan, with saddle shoulders and a wee bit of texture. I don't want a stitch pattern that would bury that hand-spun nubbiness or be swallowed up in return. But on the other hand, pure stockinette, with its insinuation of sleek, even smoothness, doesn't seem quite right either. I experimented with a number of ideas, eventually growing a very large swatch, until I had something I thought might work.

I'm motoring up the back of the sweater now, with about 5 inches of length to go. The knitting is fun and going quickly, but the worries are starting to jostle in the back of my mind. I'm not too picky about fit on this one, but I don't know if I will have enough yarn. If I run out, there will be no more. Not only is this hand-spun, but it was a rescue exercise, making a usable yarn "with character," from some near-disastrous roving. So I will work with what I have, and alter the project, if necessary, to suit.

It seems like I'm burning through the skeins of hand-spun at an awfully lively clip. I'm pretty sure I'm on skein number five (of 17) already, even before finishing the back. But being hand-spun, they're all different sizes, and I think I'm subconsciously grabbing the smaller ones first.

So here's my plan. I've estimated that, in square inches of fabric, the back of the swebater is about 2/7 of the whole thing, front, back, and sleeves. (And of course, to keep it simple, I'm ignoring niceties such as the yarn need for button- and neck-bands.) When I get the back finished and cast off, I will weigh it. Then I'll calculate ratios to see if it looks like the rest can be done with the yarn remaining.

I don't know. It may be touch and go. I spun a pound and a half of this yarn. My Cannonball sweater weighs only about a pound, but it's not bulky. My Comfy Winter Turtleneck came in at a whopping two pounds, but it's bulky Cashmerino, which weighs a ton.

If it looks like I'm not going to make it, I will have to drop back and regroup. With a change of armhole, it could become a vest rather than a sweater, I suppose. But my mental image is firmly fixed, and it's not the mental image of a vest.

So I'll just plunge on ahead and worry. Well. For every sweater a gray hair.