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.