Monday, August 11, 2014

The Wonders of Blocking!

I have always been a fan of blocking knitted items even though it takes time at the end when you just can't wait to wear the item or to give it to someone special. However, wet blocking an item in no rinse wool wash (I use Eucalan for moth prevention), especially when it is made of wool, can do wonders for it.

In the past, I always finished the entire piece before blocking it, but lately, I have been tempted to block it in pieces as I see many knitters do. There are advantages to each method. When you block the whole sweater at once, you are completely finished with it once it is dry. If it is a cardigan, you have already picked up and knit the button band since all of the pieces were already seamed before blocking. This means you only have to wet the item once. The down side is that when seaming the pieces, they can sometimes be a bit tricky to work with since they are still curled up more than they would be after blocking. This is where seaming in pieces can really be great and it is why I decided to do it this time. Once the pieces are blocked, seaming it is so much easier! The edges of the pieces are almost flat and the stitch definition is sharp, so it is a lot more clear which stitch to use for mattress stitch as you work up the sides of each piece.

Here are some photos of the cardigan I designed for myself in the process of blocking (they are a little dark since I block them in my basement):






As you can see, I lay out a large lawn tarp on the basement floor and cover it with towels. I then lay out each of the pieces, measuring them as I lay them out to be sure they meet the desired dimensions. I don't usually pin sweater pieces, but the two fronts of this cardigan appeared unusually small to me. I wanted to be sure they reached the dimensions, so I pinned them in a few key spots to be sure they stretched out a bit. I put on a fan and let these pieces dry for over day. 

I was so happy with the results. Each of the pieces seems to be exactly the widths I desired. Unfortunately, the lengths are slightly longer than I had planned, but not too much so that it will be a problem. I am not sure why this happened since I was extremely careful during the blocking process not to let the wool pieces hand down as I picked them up and moved them around. My only theory is that it has something to do with the lace pattern. I will admit that I didn't pay as much attention to my row gauge as I should have. 

I am working on seaming the pieces now and hoping to have an FO soon. 



Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Back to Aran Knitting - Honeycomb Cowl

If anyone is still following my blog, I am sure you have been wondering if I had given up for good. Sorry it has been so long. Not only has this summer been very busy with my kids' activities and my work, but I also suffered from a running injury and have been in physical therapy. Trying to recover has really been my primary focus. I am starting to see the light at the end of the tunnel, though, so here is hoping I can get back to blogging on a semi-regular basis.

In the meantime, I have been able to keep up with a bit of knitting. I finished all four pieces of the sweater I am designing myself (Aran and Lace Cardigan). They are waiting patiently to be blocked so that I can try to get them to meet my measurement guidelines. They appear to be a little small at the moment, but if they block in the same way the swatch did, everything should work out well. I have been a bit nervous to test out my theory, though, so they sit in the corner calling to me. Maybe once I finish up the two five-week summer classes I am teaching, I will get up the courage to bite the bullet.

While I have been procrastinating about blocking the pieces of my sweater, I have begun a new project to have some fun. Here is the beginning of my Honeycomb Cowl (knit from this Lion Brand pattern). (Notice I changed the title! I bet you aren't surprised.)


Below is another photo to give an idea of the size of the cowl. Keep in mind that I intend to use the blocking process to get it to relax quite a bit to meet the desired dimensions. I always knit the type of fabric I like and then rely on blocking to get the piece to fit in the way I like as long as the blocking doesn't distort the pattern in any way. Since this is a cowl, I have a lot more flexibility.



I am really enjoying working with Debbie Bliss's Cashmerino Aran for the very first time. It has a lovely soft hand. I realize that this means it could grow and might pill considerable, but I will keep these factors in mind when blocking and when wearing it. Since it is a cowl, I am not too concerned about pilling. There doesn't seem to be too much abrasion when wearing something on your neck. However, softness was a primary consideration for me since I hate to have any scratchiness next to my neck.

What has everyone else been working on this summer? I would love to hear about your projects in the comments.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

Increasing Stitches in Pattern

Sorry that I have been away for so long, but life just seems to get really busy around this time of year, doesn't it? My teaching semester ended, but that just means I am beginning a new summer session soon, which entails a lot of planning. Of course, my kids are at the end of their school year, which means a lot of events and a lot of studying for final exams. Sometimes that involves mom providing some support!

I have managed to work on a bit of knitting during this hectic time, though, mostly on my husband's Kearsarge sweater. I began the sleeves and immediately realized that it had been awhile since I had been asked to increase a sleeve in pattern without explicit directions of how to do so. In fact, most patterns won't give specific directions about which type of stitch to knit into the make-one on the next row in order to keep the pattern consistent. Like my pattern, they will tell you where to increase, on what rows to increase, and how often to do so, but not exactly what kind of stitch to be knitting into any specific increase. I had faced this situation at least two or three times before in my knitting career but not often since most sleeves have a bit of stockinette or something like moss stitch before any patterning, which is fairly easy to keep track of while increasing. Since this sleeve is mistake rib, I had to come up with a system to keep track of it.  Here is a photo to illustrate how I am doing so:


Here is a step-by-step explanation of my method of keeping track of the pattern while increasing using the photo above as a guide:

  • The coiless safety pin marks the first make-one increase. Notice that it falls between the first stitch of the sleeve and the second. I decided to keep the first stitch in st st so that it would be eay to sew up in the end. 
  • The mint green locking stitch marker is marking the second increase. Since it falls right before the first increase, which is obviously a st st column consistently throughout the pattern, it is easy for me to look at the next instance of a st st column further along to see that I need to purl this stitch. 
  • Now for the arrows, which really illustrate the overall principle I used. The two hot pink arrows indicate the original first stitch of the pattern and the original second stitch of the pattern before I began the increases. This allows me to always refer back to the original directions and work backwards from there to determine which stitches should come in between these two.
  • The blue arrows indicate the stitches that have been increased. There are three increases so far; the first two are marked with markers lower down in the sleeve, and the third increase had just been completed recently, so it hadn't been marked yet. I usually move the mint green marker up to the most recent increase after I have built up a couple of stitches above it but before it is time for another increase.
  • To check to be sure I am increasing in pattern properly, I glance down the row to see what the stitches look like before the column of st st to be sure the look of my new stitches is the same. 
Here is how the sleeve is looking so far:


It had been much further along, but I realized after I had completed it up to about the elbow that I wasn't increasing consistently at the end of the row. Apparently, I was increasing at the beginning of the row every time I needed to do so, but I would often forget to increase at the end or that same row when needed. This would have produced an awfully lopsided sleeve! You know what that means -- rip!  It seems I do a lot of ripping, but it never bothers me too much since I love to knit so much. As you can tell I am a process knitter -- the time it takes me never seems to get to me too much since I just enjoy doing it. Not very efficient, though!


Wednesday, May 14, 2014

In Tandem: Making Progress on Two Sweaters

Lately, I have had the urge to make progress on both sweaters that I have been making since each of them was at a point where I needed to sit down and concentrate on the shaping. Kearsarge had been sitting in a corner patiently for a long time, needing some focus on the neckline shaping. I spent a bit of time with him and am pleased to now have the back and front completed.


This pattern is written so that you must knit a different pattern on the sleeves than on the body. I am a bit sad to be finished with the wonderful basketweave pattern (one of my favorite to knit because it is interesting yet simple and easy to get into a flow while knitting it). The sleeves are knitted in mistake rib patterning, so they will be great for carry-along knitting. I hope to be able to put this sweater to bed soon.

The sweater that I have been designing had also gotten to the point where the second front needed some concentration while shaping the neckline. Here are the two fronts and the back completed.


I am really liking the way this sweater is coming together, although, I am still a bit concerned about how narrow the two fronts look. I had this same fear when I knitted Lisa Lloyd's Ravensong, which is also a fitted sweater, but it turned out fine once blocked. I just keep telling myself to trust my blocked swatch since it shows how much the lace opens up, and it has the measurements upon which I am basing this design. Now, I am going to move on to making my calculations for the sleeves.

You might have noticed that both of the above sweaters are knitted in pieces. Some of you might be wondering why I don't knit them in the round, as knitting in the round has become so popular. I have knitted several sweater in the round over the years. I do enjoy that style of knitting at times for some of the following advantages it has over knitting flat:
  • You can try the sweater on as you go along if you knit it from the top down.
  • The knitting is continuous, so it is easy to get into a great flow.
  • Once the knitting is finished, you only have to sew in the ends -- no seaming!
For all of the above reasons, I usually knit a simple pullover in the round from the top down. One major disadvantage that I find with knitting something as large as an adult sweater in the round is that it gets heavy and cumbersome the bigger it gets. It also become difficult to carry around in a purse for knitting on the go. Lastly, it sometimes feels as if the knitting goes on forever since there aren't any clear stopping points when one moves onto to something new.

So given the advantages and keeping in mind the disadvantages of knitting sweaters in the round, I find that, overall, I enjoy knitting flat pieces a lot more. I also like the final results better. Some of the advantages of knitting flat pieces are the following:
  • The pieces are portable since they tend to be small or easy to roll up into a small piece for easy storage in a purse.
  • Once a piece is finished, you get to move onto something "new" since you are beginning a new piece with its own cast-on, shaping, etc. This makes it seem like the knitting goes by more quickly.
  • The seams seem to give the finished piece more stability, and they provide a great place to hide the yarn ends securely.
As for the seaming, it isn't my favorite part, I will admit. I like it for a brief amount of time when I first begin it, and it feels really cool to be putting together "puzzle pieces" in such an efficient manner. However, it loses its appeal fairly quickly for me, becoming something I just have to force myself to finish in several sittings. I can't do it all in one sitting since I am too slow for that, and I get back pains. However, once I reach the home stretch and finish, there is no better sense of accomplishment!

Monday, May 5, 2014

Just Because It Makes Me Happy!

I don't have a lot of new knitting/crochet to share today since I had a busy (wonderful) weekend attending my cousin's wedding. I got to knit a bit more on my cardigan, but there isn't much more to show. However, I wanted to share this picture with you just because it made me happy. 

I took it on a glorious Spring day last week when the sun was shining through the window for one of the first times in what seems like forever. It hit upon my crochet in a way that made me smile.


Looking forward to the small patch of fabric that is now the Granny Patchwork Blanket to grow enough to join its big sis, Granny Stripes, on the couch. Hopefully that will happen in time for the cold weather when it appears again come Fall. 

On a side note, I had a lot of fun reminiscing with my aunt about how we both learned to crochet with my Great Grandmother (her grandmother) teaching us as children. I hadn't realized that she had recently begun crocheting baby blankets again -- one for her new grandchild. It was a lot of fun learning that we shared this connection even though we live so far apart.

Friday, May 2, 2014

Product vs Process?

A discussion that regularly takes place in the crafting world is whether a crafter is a product or process knitter/crocheter/spinner, etc. My answer to that question has always been a resounding statement of "I am all about the process; the end product is just a bonus." During all of my years of knitting/crocheting/spinning, I have rarely had less than three projects going at a time (at least not since the very early days). I almost always finish these projects, but it often takes me months or sometimes years to do so. No sock has ever been left without its mate, but it may have waited quite awhile to be paired before being put in the sock drawer. Blankets have lain folded in a basket for years before becoming big enough to cover anyone properly. Sweaters have been tucked into corners, with only a sleeve to go or a button band to be picked up, for a very long time before something in me rises up and forces me to sit down and finish them! None of this ever bothers me, though. I knit because I love knitting! The garments/items are an added bonus, but they are not the end in themselves.

That is until recently. What changed? I took to designing my own sweater. Now I desperately want to finish it so I can see how well it all works out.  The process has become the designing and the only way to find out if I like what I am doing is to see a finished object, unlike when I am following a pattern, and I already know how it will look when finished. So I have dedicated myself to mostly working on the cardigan I am designing (with a little crocheting of granny squares to mix things up at times) until it is finished. With this new mentality, I am making swift progress given my limited time to knit. 


I will let you in on a little secret. My hurry to finish isn't only about seeing what it will look like put together, but it is also about wanting to see if it is big enough once blocked and put together. I keep having a nagging concern that the right front looks awfully narrow. My blocked swatch measurements tell another story, so hopefully, that story provides the happy ending for which I am hoping!  My plan is to block all of the piece before seaming. That way, I can make corrections if the pieces are completely off. It will be a painful process if that happens because it will mean a lot of reknitting, but it just might need to be done.

Friday, April 25, 2014

Steady Progress

The end of the school year always means a lot of grading for a college professor, so as you can imagine, yarn work has had to take a bit of a back seat lately. However, I have made steady progress on a couple of items I have introduced here before.

I am finding that the Granny Patchwork Blanket is very nice to pick up on evenings when I am tired and unable to think too deeply about fiber arts. Each square is made in exactly the same manner. I have also decided to plan each row of squares in advance (as Lucy on Attic24 did) since it makes the project more portable. I am really started to get excited about how well the colors are coming together. Lucy talks about "soul" colors as I have mentioned before, and these are definitely mine. They make me feel warm and fuzzy inside when I see them.



The picture below shows all of the squares.




On the knitting front, I have mostly been working on the sweater I am designing for myself. This process is so much fun, and I wonder why I waited so long to try it! If any of you are considering designing your own garment, just jump into it. Really, what is the worst that can happen; it is just yarn. Here is the back piece:


As you can probably tell, this will definitely need to be blocked, and once it is, the lace will open up quite a bit in the central motif. One element of this design that I am so pleased by is that I was able to get the honeycomb stitch into it in a way that did not simply mimic the traditional Aran look. I wanted a touch of Aran but with the twist of a lace motif that resembles cabling. 

I have started the front pieces and hope to keep chugging along on this sweater until it is finished. Usually, I tend to knit many different things at once without sticking to any one project for any length of time. I guess you would call me a process knitter since I am never too concerned about how long it takes me to finish something unless I am knitting a gift or test knitting for a designer. However, this time, I really want to finish this project as soon as I can just to see how it all turns out. I also need to calm those negative voices inside of me that keep telling me "it might be too small" or "the color isn't going to look right on you." I know that once it is finished and blocked, everything will work out. Once it is completed, I will write a longer post on my design process and about all of the helpful resources I used to make it happen. It really has been a simple process and one that I am enjoying.