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.

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Busy Week - Not a lot of New Stitching Going On!

This has been an incredibly busy week for me for some reason. I always talk about how we have ebbs and flows in life and that when I have the ebbs, I try to take advantage of them by indulging in my crafts as much as possible. Unfortunately, this was a week where it felt like an entire sea flowed towards me, both at work and at home. I am steadily making my way to shore and hope to get back to some quality crafting time next week. I also hope to have something fun to show you then. 

Until then, I will just provide a little tease of something I have been working on quietly lately. I am trying to design my own sweater. Only once before (in 20 years of knitting) have I ever knit a sweater without a pattern, and it was a basic high-waisted rib, fitted cardigan for my daughter who was a pre-teen at the time. It was pretty simple, but I was pleased to accomplish the decision-making process and the math involved in the shaping at the time. This time, I am spicing things up a bit by trying another cardigan (this time for me) but by adding a motif with various stitch patterns to it. I have the back almost completed and am having a really good time working my way through this process. Here is a picture of the swatch I made to test out my ideas. 

Is anyone surprised that the first motif I designed myself contains the honeycomb stitch? :)  In case you were wondering, the yarn is Cascade 220.

Friday, April 11, 2014

Join As You Go (JAYG) - A Miracle Technique for Crocheting Granny Squares

I can't express strongly enough how enamored I am with the JAYG (join as you go) technique that I recently learned to use while working granny squares. As I mentioned on this blog in another post, I have known about this technique's existence for a little while, but I had never tried it out before. I hadn't seen any directions for it and hadn't taken the time to search for them, but then I came across Attic24 (my go-to blog for anything crochet-related) and saw Lucy's wonderful tutorial for the technique. Since that time, I have also watched a you-tube video about it and have read Edie Echman's book, Connecting the Shapes Crochet Motifs. This technique has really changed everything for me when it comes to crochet because I am now really enjoying making granny squares, knowing that I will not face an endless amount of joining when I finish piles of squares.

Here is a brief explanation of how I am joining my squares as I go (note that my method is slightly different from the explanation in the link to the first tutorial above but is the same as the method used by Lucy in the second tutorial; both get very similar results):

  • For the first row, I completed a five-round granny square and then chose a coordinating color for my second square.
  • I completed four rounds of the second square, and then I completed the first edge of the the fifth round, while only completing the first three-dc cluster of the corner. (I begin the rounds by chaining 3 after I slip stitch into the top of the chain 3 from the round below. This makes my first dc. I then dc directly in to the space at the right edge of the corner, which does slightly twist the stitch. Finally, I complete the 3 dc cluster, which is only half of the corner. Then when I come around the to that corner again, I complete it with 3 dc, chain 2, and a slip-stitch join to the original chain 3 I made to begin the round. The slight twist of the first chain 3 stitch does not show at all once the round is completed.)
  • I, then, slip stitched into the corner of the first square I had completed, connecting the top left corner of the second square to the top right corner of the first square.
  • After I slip stitched the two corners together, I then completed my second 3 dc cluster to complete the corner. 
  • From this point on, the JAYG technique continues with slip stitches into spaces on the completed square to connect the sides of the two squares and 3 dc clusters into spaces on the square being worked to create the last round of that square.
  • When I got to the second row, I began the task of not only joining the adjacent sides of squares, but also of joining the bottoms of the squares in the row being worked to the tops of the squares in the row below. This means that you must slip stitch in two places at the corners, once into the corner of the square that is adjacent to the square upon which you are working and once into the corner of the square below the one upon which you are working. After these two slip stitches are completed, you begin to make the 3 dc clusters into the bottom edge of the square upon which you are working, slip stitching into the spaces of the square below the one upon which you are working as you go along.
Here is what it all looks like put together.

This next photo illustrates a square in progress that will be attached soon.

This photo illustrates the slip-stitch joins, circled in red, and gives an idea of placement. 

The most helpful tip I learned when studying this technique was to think of the slip stitches as the equivalent of the chain 2 that is done between the 3 dc clusters at the corners and the equivalent of the chain 1 (that is sometimes done) between 3 dc clusters along the sides. (I want to note here that I am not chaining between my 3 dc clusters along the sides in order to make my granny square more compact - a tip I learned from Lucy on Attic24).

As for choosing my colors as I join squares, I am currently flying by the seat of my pants and just choosing them as I go. I like this method since so much of my life is planned; I find it to be fun to have freedom in my crafting at times and to just try to go with the flow of my inspiration at the moment in choosing the colors. Since this is supposed to be a "patchwork" blanket, I have faith that this spontaneous method will work out in the long-run just as it did when I made the Granny Stripe Blanket. However, I reserve the right to change my mind after this second row if I find that I am not pleased with the effect. If that happens, I will follow Lucy's method of choosing colors a row at at time.

Please share your experiences with JAYG in the comments, or if you have another method of joining that really works for you, we would love to hear about it.

Friday, April 4, 2014

Adventures in Drop Spindling

I have been focusing mostly on knitting lately, working steadily on Kearsarge for my husband, designing my own knitted cardigan (which I will talk about here once it is complete), and completing another hat for someone we know who is enduring chemotherapy.

The hat is made with Cascade Sierra Quatro (a yarn that has recently been discontinued). I like to make these hats from cotton or a cotton/wool blend so that they are easy to care for and so that they can be worn indoors. I have heard from many cancer survivors that it is great to have a hat like this that can be worn around the house.

Even though I haven't had as much time to work on my drop spindling, I did do a little this week. I would like to talk about some of the resources I have been using to assist me in learning this new skill, just like I did in a recent post about Fair Isle.

This first set of pictures illustrates some yarn I made in my very early attempts to drop spindle. 

This yarn was spun from Malabrigo Nube fiber. As you can see, it is quite underspun and the yarn switches from very thick lightly spun yarn to overly twisted, thinner yarn. This is a classic look for yarn made by a brand-new spinner. I remember making yarn like this on my wheel at first, too. However, I have also come to the conclusion after reading some of the sources I will list below that beginning with Merino fiber wasn't the best choice. Here are some reasons:

  • Short Staple Length: Since Merino has a short staple length (which accounts for its softness), it seems to be harder for a newer spindler (or spinner) to manage the motions quickly enough to keep up with the short length of the fiber staple. This seems to be why I had so many underspun sections. 
  • Combed Top: The other problem I found with spinning this Merino is that the fiber came in a combed top preparation, which is typical for Merino. This means that all of the fiber had been combed so that every piece of fiber was parallel to every other piece of fiber. This makes for a very smooth preparation that makes it easier to spin a worsted yarn (not worsted weight, in this case worsted basically means smooth and shiny), but worsted spinning of combed top is a little trickier to get the hang of when you are new to spinning or spindling.
  • Fiber Presentation: The fiber was "put up" into a pretty package (the braids you see on the Malabrigo website), so everything became compressed. I did pre-draft the fiber to try to loosen it up a bit, but I think I needed to do more. Splitting it into many smaller sections would have helped, but I only split it a couple of times.

With all this being said, one of the amazing things about handspun fiber is that no matter how far from the mark it looks when you see the finished result after spinning, knitting it can always do wonders! I have yet to have spun a fiber where I wasn't amazed at how much better it looked once knitted up and blocked (and plying even helps it before knitting it does). Here is what the Malabrigo Nube looks like knitted into a swatch:

It looks like the type of yarn one could use to make a novelty hat or cowl. I might just try to duplicate these initial spinning efforts with a bit more accuracy to get enough yarn for a hat.

So during the process of extreme frustration I was feeling while trying to spin the Malabrigo on the drop spindle, I realized that the fiber might be an issue. At this point, I pulled out some Romney fiber that I had stored away to use on my wheel. Romney has a longer staple length and is considered a fiber with a medium staple length. It is often cited as good fiber for beginning spinners to use. I remembered this from when I had learned to spin on my wheel, so I decided to give it a try. I immediately had much more success. Here are some pictures of what it looked like on the Niddy Noddy and wound into a ball.

As you can see, I was able to spin a much finer yarn that was more consistent. Of course, I still have a ways to go, but I feel as if I am at least getting my spinning under some control. I plan to spin some more on the drop spindle and then create another ball, so I can ply to the two balls together to create a two-ply yarn. 

During this process of learning the drop spindle and making some progress towards improving, I have had several resources that I have been very helpful after a class at my LYS got me started!

Lastly, one of the most helpful techniques that I learned from the resources above (especially Pricilla Gibson-Roberts) is the importance of using the Park-and-Draft method to first learn the steps in the process of spindling before actually trying to spin with the drop spindle in mid-air. Once I got the hang of my drafting technique using Park-and-Draft, and I could see how the twist was entering the fiber, it was very easy to transition into true drop spindling. 

Does anyone have any experiences with learning to drop spindle to share or any tips to help those of us newbies who want to improve?

Happy spinning, spindling or knitting and crocheting if those are your fiber crafts of choice! 

Saturday, March 29, 2014

Yarn Likes to Be Washed!

In my knitting, I have always been a big fan of blocking finished objects. Wool likes to get wet, and gently blocking knitted items evens everything out and often eliminates minor imperfections. Issues with size can also be adjusted during the blocking process as long as the measurement differences aren't too large.

However, I didn't realize until this morning how much of a difference washing a crocheted afghan could make. I am so pleased with the result I achieved by washing my acrylic Granny Stripe Blanket on cold, delicate cycle and then drying it on low (as the yarn band instructed). Not only is the afghan a lot softer and fluffier, but the drape of the afghan has really improved. It used to feel a bit stiff, but now it is light and airy. 

But the absolute best improvement of all is that now my corners are not curling!! It appears that the stitches I added in the corners (as I describe in this post) actually worked to make the corners lay flat. I am so pleased. I am not adding a picture of the afghan here because a photo doesn't capture the improvement. It is all in the feel of the yarn and in the feel of the drape of the afghan, something that can't be shown well in pictures. 

Does anyone have any other tips about finishing crocheted items that help to improve upon the finished object? Please share in the comments if you do.

Friday, March 28, 2014

Finished! Cozy Granny Stripe Blanket for the Whole Family to Enjoy

I put the finishing touches on my Granny Stripe Blanket this week, and I am very pleased with it. I decided to stick with Lucy's suggestion for the edging. I followed her directions closely, but I neglected to look at her photos as closely before completing several rounds. As a result, my corners aren't worked as well as hers were. I accounted for the need to add stitches to my corners by chaining three stitches at each corner the first time around. I then chained two stitches at the corner after a couple of rounds of not adding stitches when I noticed that my corners were curling in a bit. Even with those adjustments, my corners still curl in a bit if I don't straighten them. 

Of course, I noticed when it was too late that Lucy seemed to work her corners a little differently. If I make one of these blankets again, I will study her photos a little more closely to see what she might have done to prevent curling. I will also read Eddie Eckman's advice on corners in her book on borders that I mentioned earlier in the week. Why I didn't do that before I started my edging is beyond anyone's comprehension. As my mother always said, "haste makes waste." 

With all that being said, I am very happy with my finished afghan, especially since this is the first large afghan I have completed in at least six or seven years. It is nice to have a new one around the house. Here it is:

I made the blanket to put in our back sunroom, which has a blue, red, and tan color scheme, but I am finding that it actually looks good in just about any room in my house since there are so many colors in it. Here is what it looks like in the blue and red room:

Here it is all folded up nicely and neatly (something that will probably never be seen again in a house like mine with two teenagers).

Lastly, here is clos -up of the edging. I love the way Lucy's mind works. This edging was simple to crochet, yet it adds a touch of loveliness that really completes this afghan beautifully.

To recap the specifics about this afghan, it is the Granny Stripe Blanket by Lucy from Attic24.  I used various colors from Vanna's Choice yarn (details to follow on my Ravelry project page under suzknittyspinner). My color selection was random throughout the crocheting of the project. Measurements for the blanket will also be put on Ravelry when I get around to listing all of the colors I used there later this weekend.

I mentioned my great grandmother, Mum Jo, on the blog when I first started it, but I wanted to pay tribute to her again now that I have completed another afghan. She is definitely my inspiration for making these blankets since I vividly remember how she used to make so many crocheted afghans for her family members throughout her later years (she spent the earlier years crocheting exquisite dollies and table clothes) and how much these blankets were loved by all. She was the matriarch of a large family with nine grandchildren and upwards of 30 great grandchildren, and she was continually making afghans for each one she could before she could no longer crochet because of her advanced age. I feel very lucky to have been one of the older great grandchildren who received one of her afghans. I have it to this day, and I cherish it. I can only hope that one of my family members will cherish my afghans as much as I do hers. And maybe if I am really lucky, one of my descendants will also cherish the fiber arts as much as I do and learn from me so they can carry on as I have carried on Mum Jo's legacy.

So what I am up to now that I have a little more time to get back to focusing on my knitting? I am slowly making progress on my husband's Kearsarge sweater, knitting another chemo cap, knitting the lace socks I posted about last week, and trying to design my own cardigan. I will update you more on these projects in upcoming weeks.

(Just an additional note -- I guess I really do have ADD when it comes to fiber arts since I forgot to mention one other project I have been steadily making progress on, the Ivy League Vest. I will be casting on for the steeks soon, so I will update everyone on that with another "Adventures in Fair Isle" post soon.)

Sunday, March 23, 2014

Putting the Finishing Touches on My Granny Stripe Blanket

Thanks to Lucy at Attic24, I have gotten back into crochet after many years where I only crocheted infrequently when needing to make a baby afghan. Crochet was my first fiber passion, and I am having so much fun bringing it back into my regular nightly fiber fun. I enjoy having several fiber crafts from which to choose (knitting, spinning, and crochet right now but weaving on a rigid heddle loom keeps calling my name). 

After a couple of months of work on my Granny Stripe Blanket, I am beginning to see the end of the road for it. It has been a very enjoyable process since the stitching is very simple and meditative, yet the color changes have provided a lot of excitement.  Here it is with all but the edging to complete:

I have begun the edging following Lucy's instructions to complete a 3 dc cluster in each space along the edge using the purple yarn in the photo above. I then plan to continue to follow her instructions using the green, the pink, and then finishing with the blue at the outer edge. I might throw in one more color between the green and the pink if I think I need it. 

Right now I am having to deal with all of the ends that changing colors so frequently produces. This was the part I have always dreaded about color changing in crochet and knitting. However, I am finding that if I just buckle down and bite the bullet, it isn't too bad. The pictures below show the edging and the way that I first crochet over the two ends left for each color change row. You can see in the second photo that even after I crochet over them, there are still ends that I need to weave in a bit more with a tapestry needle since crocheting over them with only three dc doesn't seem secure enough to me. I would rather take the time to secure them now than regret it later if the blanket begins to unravel.

The 3 dc edging on the first round

I am so happy with every aspect of this project so far. It has been a joy to crochet and the Vanna's Choice yarn was nice to work with for this project. As you probably know from reading this blog, I am primarily a wool kind of gal. I love everything about wool from spinning it to knitting with it. However, for crochet, I have always found acrylic to work just fine. It is more cost effective when making a large afghan, it is easier to wash and dry, and a wide range of colors is usually easy to find. 

Has anyone made the switch from acrylic to wool in his or her crocheting? If so, could you add your reasons in the comment section below. I would love to hear about the differences you have found in using wool for crochet if you have decided you like it better. I just may try it soon as long as I can do so without completely blowing the budget! I think I see a crocheted shawl or scarf made in wool in my future.

Thursday, March 20, 2014

Trying Magic Loop and Judy's Magic Cast-on for Socks for the First Time

As you can probably tell if you have been reading my blog, I am addicted to learning new techniques and acquiring new fiber-related skills. As much as I love to get into the Zen-like rhythm of knitting along on a garment containing stitches I know well, I also love the challenges of continually learning new skills. This is why I am having so much fun lately trying new techniques for making my socks.

I am a big fan of making my socks from the toe-up using Priscilla Gibson-Roberts' short-row technique as I have written about before. However, I recently purchased some Malabrigo sock yarn that I realized was absolutely perfect for a pattern I had from Wendy Johnson called the Serpentine Socks. I considered using the PGR method for the toes instead of following Wendy's instructions for her toe-up method, but then I decided I would use this an opportunity to try out a new technique. Not only is her method of increasing for the toe different from PGR's yarn-over, short-row technique since Wendy uses make-one increases, but her recommendation for ways to begin the sock challenged me to try Judy's Magic Cast-on for the first time. Wendy also recommended using two circular needles or a the Magic Loop method to make these lace socks. I imagine she did so to make it easier to follow the lace repeat pattern since it would have to be split up on the double pointed needles (dpns) if knitted in the traditional way. My sock is underway and going well so far. Here are some photos of it where you can see the look of the toe and how the sock looks when being knitted using the Magic Loop technique.

In the photo above, you can see how the extra-long cable on this 40" Addi Turbo Sock Rocket needle allows me to pull out the back needle to continue to knit in the round on the front stitches. When I get to the end, I will be able to do the same by adjusting the needles appropriately. (The color of the sock yarn above is not accurate; the yarn is actually a delightful shade of blue green that is more green than blue.)

The next photo illustrates how convenient it is to carry the sock when using the Magic Loop method since both needles can be pulled out enough to make the knitting stay in place but to also easily wrap the cable up neatly to fit in a purse.

You can also see the appearance of the toe in the above photos. My impression of Wendy's technique for making the toe is very positive. The use of the make-one increases was simple, yet it produces a nice-looking toe. This method felt easier than PCR's method, but I like both methods and will use each one for different purposes. As for the cast-on for the toe-up sock, I really liked learning and using Judy's Magic Cast-on. I normally use a crochet provisional cast-on (which Wendy describes in the "Easy Toe" in the linked article from Knitty), and I will continue to do so if I am making my socks on dpns. Judy's Magic Cast-on is just too cumbersome on dpns; however, making it on a 40" long Addi Turbo Sock Rocket needle was a dream. It was easy to perform and it provides less hassle since you never have to pick up the stitches from a provisional cast-on at any point in your knitting. 

I like having different options depending on my circumstances. As for using the Magic Loop method on an extra-long needles, I am mostly enjoying it since it enables me to complete all three lace repeats for each side of the sock without interruption. This is definitely the best method to use when making socks that have a lace pattern, cable pattern, or even a colorwork pattern since it avoids interruptions to the pattern. On the other hand, for making plain socks in stockinette stitch or even a simple rib, I would choose my dpns over magic loop or socks on two circs. I am so used to using them that I have an excellent rhythm when I use them and the sock seems to fly along much more quickly than it does when working on magic loop. The time I take stopping to adjust the needle in magic loop seems to be a bigger interruption that the slight adjustments I need to make with dpns.

What methods have you found work best for you? Please share your tips, questions, or comments in the comment section. Happy knitting.

Friday, March 14, 2014

Better Luck with Drop Spindling

I have been away on vacation, enjoying some incredibly great weather in Florida and visiting my parents, so I haven't been able to post here lately. However, right before I left for my trip, I spent a half hour attempting to spin on my drop spindle again (my way of relaxing before the flight). I decided to try to use some Romney fiber that I had instead of the Malabrigo Nube Merino fiber I had been using. I remembered that when I was learning to spin on my wheel, the Romney had been a little easier to pre-draft and to draft while spinning. It isn't as pretty as the Malabrigo since it is a blend of natural colors, but it was much easier for me to handle. As I worked on my drafting technique with the Romney, I felt like I had a lot more control and that I had more time to draft before the twist got away from me. I have since read in Abby Franquemont's Respect the Spindle: Spinning Infinite Yarns with One Amazing Tool that "Coopworth, Romney, Corriedale, and Bluefaced Leicester are excellent wool choices for a new spinner." This certainly seemed to hold true for me because the Romney is making a huge difference.

Another element that seems to have assisted me in making some progress is the park and draft technique. Both Abby Franquemont and Pricilla Gibson-Roberts in Spinning in the Old Way suggest using this technique when one is first learning in order to get the hang of drafting. I found it to be very helpful to me and even now that I am able to spin with the drop spindle suspended in air, I notice that if I feel out of control, I can simply park it between my knees to finish off the drafting. Now I am beginning to see why drop spindling is so appealing to so many people. I have a feeling that I might really take to the spindle more and more over time, which makes me wonder if my poor wheel will continue to gather more and more dust. Only time will tell.

I promise to post some pictures of my progress soon once I get back into my groove after being away. It is also tax time of year, so I might have to focus on that rather than my glorious fiber pursuits for a few days! :(

Happy knitting, crocheting, and spinning!

Friday, March 7, 2014

Join As You Go (JAYG) - Crochet Granny Squares

I have been crocheting for over 20 years, yet I have never successfully completed a granny square afghan. There are a number of reasons for this:

  1. Knitting took over as my passion a year after I began crocheting, so most of my attention has been devoted to mastering the many aspects of knitting that I have caught my interest over the years.
  2. When I learned crochet, I became very attracted to stitch patterns (as I did for knitting) and spent a lot of time practicing different types to determine which ones I would use for various afghans I had planned. I ended up making three different afghans using three different stitch patterns (five-dc shell, front-post/back-post basketweave, and a combination cluster st/5 dc shell) in my early days of crochet. Recently, I became drawn back into crochet because of Lucy's fabulous Granny Stripe Blanket, another one worked in rows, as I have always done, but this time using color.
  3. Lastly, the idea of joining the squares has always been something that has been a turn-off! I have made squares for afghans worked with co-workers for charity before and have even participated in joining portions of those afghans, but I have never liked the joining process. I have begun at least two granny square afghans of my own and the completed squares have sat in baskets and trunks for years since I have never been motivated to join them. 
Of all the reasons listed above, I have to say that I suspect #3 is the real culprit. Luckily, I have recently come across a technique that eliminates #3 from the list - JAYG (join as you go). I had heard of this technique before, but I had never taken the time to practice it. Then I saw that Lucy from Attic24 was using the technique in some of her blankets and that she even had a tutorial for it. I had to try it, so I did. Here is the Granny Patchwork Blanket that I started the other day using the JAYG technique.

I am using the slip-stitch method that Lucy uses, but there are two other methods described in Edie Eckman's Connecting the Shapes Crochet Motifs book in case you are interested (flat joins and single crochet joins). I am very happy with this technique so far. It is very easy to execute once you learn how to do it, and I enjoy watching the blanket grow as I am working. I think that might be one of the reasons I always liked making my afghans in rows. I love to see knitting and crochet grow. This might be what makes me more of a sweater knitter and a blanket crocheter than someone who enjoys making small items. I am also a person who is cold all of the time, so there is a certain appeal to working on an item that serves the dual purpose of being interesting while keeping me warm. 

Here is a closer picture of the slip-stitch, JAYG seams (to view a tutorial click on this link from Attic24):

I have become so enamored with this new project that I just had to have it with me (along with at least two other knitting projects) for my brief trip to Florida in the next couple of days. I couldn’t decide which colors to bring, so I cam up with the idea to wind small balls of each color (all 17) and to bring them with me in my luggage. Stitching squares by the pool seems like fun. 

Look at all of the beautiful colors; I have become quite fond of Stylecraft Special DK (recommended by Lucy of Attic24) for acrylic. I am normally a wool-kind-of-gal, but for an enormous crochet afghan that will hog a lot of yarn and need to be washed frequently, you can’t beat a nice acrylic. This one is particularly soft, which is a bonus.

Have any of you tried JAYG? I would love to hear some of your experiences or any suggestions for other methods that you use to make joining motifs fun. 

Monday, March 3, 2014

Adventures with the Drop Spindle

I have been spinning for a number of years now but always on my Ashford Traveller (Double Drive). I learned a while back and took it very seriously for awhile so that I could learn it well enough to produce decent worsted-spun, worsted weight yarn. I never became very good, but I was pleased enough with my results while knitting up the yarn that I produced to feel like I had accomplished something. I don't spin often now since my lack of time causes me to need to prioritize my crafting interests, but it is nice to know that when I do pull out my wheel, it comes back like riding a bike does.

Drop spindling is another story for me. I got one years back and tried it on a few occasions.  One of my friends gave me a quick introduction, but then I had to follow the directions in books and on You-Tube to continue learning. I never got the hang of it and felt frustrated by my apparent lack of coordination. However, last week, I noticed that my awesome LYS, River Colors, was having a drop spindle class. I signed up and enjoyed a lovely Sunday afternoon learning to drop spindle. I really struggled, but by the end of the class, I felt like I was in a bit of a flow.   The yarn I was making was very lumpy and bumpy, but since I felt like I could keep the spindle spinning while allowing some twist to travel up the fiber, I was happy. From my previous experience with the wheel, I knew that in a matter of time, I would get better and have a hard time making this kind of beginner's yarn again even if I wanted to do so (which sometimes you do if you are looking for novelty yarn). I came home and kept trying. Much to my chagrin, I didn't seem to be doing as well as I did at the lesson. Now, I am determined to keep practicing to see if I can make any progress. We shall see!

Here are some pictures to give you an idea of where I am right now drop spindling in comparison to how much progress I have made with wheel spindling:

My first yarn on the drop spindle yesterday:

My latest efforts on the drop spindle:

Some yarn and a project from my previous spinning wheel efforts (after a lot of practice):

As you can see, I have a long way to go with the drop spindle to even approximate the kind of yarn I can now make on the wheel. However, I still have a long way to go on the wheel to approximate the kind of yarn I see experienced spinners making. Whether I will ever get there with either of these crafts remains to be seen! I dream of being a true "spinner" some day, but I fear that it isn't part of my DNA in the way knitting and crochet seem to be. Those crafts came to me fairly naturally (even though I had to practice with each new technique). Spinning feels like something I have to really think hard about to make my hands and movements work in the way they should.

What are some of your experiences with spinning? Do you have any secrets to success to share?  I would love to hear from others about experiences you are having or have had.

By the way, I have continued to pick up my knitting and crocheting a little bit every day, too, making progress the way I usually do (slowly but steadily like the tortoise in the famous parable). My husband's sweater is growing slowly with the back completed and the front piece halfway completed now, the Granny Stripe afghan is also growing, and it should be ready for me to begin the edging in a couple of weeks, and finally, I continue to knit the Ivy League Vest using the two-handed stranding technique while becoming more and more comfortable with it all the time. I am really enjoying Fair Isle!

As you can see, something in me just can't stop learning. I find that to be the most exciting part of the entire process of practicing these wonderful crafts. The only thing better than learning in my book is being able to teach others. However, through continually learning something new and through the process of struggling with it, I find I become a better teacher (both of the fiber arts, but more importantly, as an English teacher and as a parent helping my children with their learning processes). One problem with this thirst to always be learning, though, is it really slows down my production time on the projects I have started already! Oh well, the fun is in the process for me, and when I do finish the product, I am happy to finally have it to wear or use.

Friday, February 28, 2014

Update - Toe to Top Sock bind-off

You may remember this earlier post where I discussed my attempts to bind off a toe-to-top sock in a stretchy bind-off but was unhappy with my results: sock bind-off. Well, I just finished one of my daughter's socks (I know -- these won't be finished for this winter at the rate I am going!) and experimented with a different bind-off I had liked better in the past. This bind-off is sometimes called a tubular bind-off, but Pricilla Gibson-Roberts simply refers to it as a "graft off at top" or "graft-off edge."

Basically, you are using Kitchener stitch to graft off the stitches. In order to do this, you must first separate the knit stitches onto one needle and the purl stitches onto another needle. This can be done on 1 by 1 rib or 2 by 2 rib very easily. You simply divide your sock stitches in half for front and back. Then begin with the front stitches on one needle and divide them onto two needles by slipping the knit stitches onto another dpn and by slipping the purl stitches onto a third dpn as you come to them. You will eventually have two rows of stitches, the knits in front and the purls in back, just like you do for Kitchener stitch when you close of the top of the toe in top-to-toe socks. When you get to the end of the first set of two needles, you will need to separate the knits from the purls for the back of the sock just as you did for the front.

Here are some illustrations to help you see what I mean. This first photo illustrates the way the knits and purls are separated on two needles and shows the first step in which you use a tapestry needle to enter the knit stitch as if to knit and then take it off the needle as in the first step of Kitchener stitch:

This next photo illustrates the way you use the tapestry needles to go into the second knit stitch on the front needle as if to purl and then you leave it on the needle.

Now, you bring the tapestry needle to the back row of purl stitches and enter the first purl stitch as if to purl and take it off the needle:

The last step is to enter the next purl stitch on the back needle as if to knit and then leave it one the needle:

I found as I always do with Kitchener stitch that I needed to sit in a quiet corner for 15 minutes and really concentrate. It is slower than a normal bind-off, but well worth the effort since it is stretchy while being neat and tidy. Here is a photo of the finished graft-off edge (note the sock pattern included a bit of ribbing at that top so it makes it easy to use this technique; if your pattern doesn't, you might want to add it.):

There are so many ways of doing things in knitting, so I encourage you to try different techniques. After trying a few of the different stretchy cast-offs, I have seen, this is definitely my favorite. Please share your favorites in the comments section.