February 24, 2006

MY FIRST FINISHED OBJECT OF 2006

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Shedir, she is finished! Before I send her off, Bertie Bear agreed to model her.

Top view, so that you can appreciate the beautiful star shaping:
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I'm pleased with how this chemo cap turned out. I've generally had problems with the tension on the reverse stockinette background of cable stitches (which is why I generally avoid knitting cables), but this cap had relatively few tension problems. My efforts at improvement in this area are paying off. And, knitting in the round, rather than flat and back-and-forth, I am sure also contributed to my success in this.

The pattern stated that it would use a whole ball of Rowan Calmer, but I had quite a number of yards left over, which is probably the result of my tight knitting. The cap is very stretchy (as the pattern states it would be), and fits me, so I'm confident it will fit the intended giftee.

Last Monday night we had an excellent turnout for our Ferals meeting. I think I now know the secret to a big draw: Hold our meeting on a holiday so that people aren't feeling pressured to come right after work, and have Andrea invite everyone to bring their spinning wheels. Not only were plenty of Feral knitters there spinning that evening, but we also attracted quite a few passers-by who inquired about our group. It is typical that when we meet, one or two people will come over and ask about our knitting. But the spinning wheels were a huge attraction.

Margarite was there with her spinning wheel and also showing off the major portion of the Jacobean bag:
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It was so carefully knitted, you'd never know it was her first intarsia project. She's working on knitting the sides, adding the embroidered details, and then felting the bag.

Linda "K" brought show-and-tell from her recent stay in India. The wooden beads in her right hand are fragrant sandalwood beads; the ethnic socks in her left hand were hand-knitted.
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It was great to see some faces of Fair Isle knitters who haven't joined us in a long time, like Sandra:

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She's working on a Fair Isle of her own design, using Dale Tiur wool, and it is gorgeous.

Yesterday, I met up with Joy and Laura-Lee for lunch and knitting. Theoretically, we are all working on our Master Knitter materials, but none of us were actively pursuing that goal yesterday. Joy was knitting a prayer shawl for a friend of hers who was diagnosed last month with breast cancer; here, Joy models it:

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When last we met, in January, Joy had just started this prayer shawl. Scott and I had just learned that our accountant's wife was just in the hospital having surgery. It was after talking with Joy at that time that I made the decision to knit a chemo cap. And I feel good about the good knitting can do in the world.

Posted by Karen at 01:38 PM | Comments (4)

February 20, 2006

GETTING CAUGHT UP

The woman for whom I'm knitting the chemo cap started her treatments last week, so I've been making a concerted effort to get the cap finished. Here is how it looked, as of yesterday evening:

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Project: Shedir, from the 2004 issue of Knitty devoted to breast cancer awareness
Yarn: Rowan Calmer
Needles: Size US 3

With all of the cable crossings, this cap is quite a lot of knitting. But I'm into the crown shaping (I hope you can see the star on the crown beginning to emerge from the cables, at the top of the photo), and am grateful that every decrease round results in fewer stitches to knit.

In Two Swans Yarns news, I've uploaded photos and information on all of the yarn packs for the felted bags in Nicky Epstein's new book, Fabulous Felted Bags, and you can see them here. Now, not all of these bags may be to your taste. But think of them as little works of art, as insights into Nicky Epstein's imagination, as occasions to practice intarsia, or short row shaping.

Years ago, my friend Laura-Lee wove for herself a dress and shawl for her 40th birthday. Today that dress and that shawl hang in her living room, displayed as one would display treasured Japanese kimonos. I can imagine doing the same thing with these bags -- as a testament to what knitting can be, as a way of "showing off" my knitting skills, perhaps using the bag as a display case for a treasured pair of ebony knitting needles and a fine wooden drop spindle.

Posted by Karen at 03:19 PM | Comments (12)

February 17, 2006

SALLY'S KNITTING BAG JACKET

Jean Wong, in her class on Japanese Fine Finishing at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat, described herself as "a picky person." I've expressed my admiration for her knitting -- you could wear her sweaters inside-out (if you wanted to) and those sweaters would still be breath-takingly beautiful. I was so impressed with her knowledge that I'm seriously considering driving up to Vancouver, B.C., which is only about three hours away by car, to take another knitting class from her.

Another knitting teacher whose classes I have really enjoyed and learned much from, is Sally Melville.

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Sally and me, Feb. 12, 2006. Sally is wearing the Knitting Bag Jacket from the cover of her new book.

When Sally taught at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat circa 1999, I took all four days of classes with her; at that time she was just designing the garments in the first in her series of knitting books (The Knitting Experience: Book 1: The Knit Stitch). At one point she threw on a lopsided cardigan, and stood on a chair in the front of the room so that we could all see her well, and explained that this was a garment she was designing because, with one front of the cardi intentionally several inches longer than the other, a beginning knitter couldn't go wrong with it. It was all very interesting, but I couldn't see myself knitting that cardigan.

With the publication of Sally's latest in her series of books, Color, she has advanced her target audience (the beginning knitter) to the point of color knitting. And the class I took from Sally this past Sunday was called "Color at Your Fingertips."

The morning session was about the most basic way of putting two (or more) colors together -- knitting stripes. If you've read Sally's book on color, you'll know that the book contains garment designs with conventional stripes, but also goes beyond this. One can knit with one single color per row and get a two-toned effect, as in tweed stitch or mosaic knitting. One can knit with one single color per row and create shapes of color, as in modular knitting. As I was dutifully swatching in that morning session on Sunday, using some blue and some purple yarn, and some odd variegated novelty yarns I've collected in my personal stash, I couldn't help but be glad that I hadn't brought the same tobacco-brown and tan yarns that I had used when I'd taken her class on tweed stitch, circa 1999. (I still have those yarns in my closet, along with those brown swatches.)

My Knit-bud Anne and her daughter Deb were also in Sally Melville's class on Sunday. Anne has chosen as her Olympic knitting project the Knitting Bag Jacket. (Anne purchased the yarns from your favorite yarn store and mine, Two Swans Yarns.) Anne was working on the Knitting Bag Jacket during all the spare moments in class, and when we went for lunch, too.

Now, with Sally modeling the jacket before our very eyes, and with Anne busily knitting on it, I was powerless to resist thinking about possibly knitting it myself. But my major reservation about this jacket has always been the colorway -- Grouse and Spagnum. Grouse is a dark brown heathered with a bit of green and gold, and, over the years that I've owned Two Swans, I have grown to like this color tremendously. But Spagnum is a seaweedy, yellow-green -- the kind of color I can appreciate from afar but could never wear. Anne was kind enough to pause in her knitting over lunch and let me drape the work-in-progress over my arm.

I know well the knitting bag that was Sally's inspiration for the Knitting Bag Jacket, since that bag is something that I carry in Two Swans's inventory. And if I needed affirmation that this is, indeed, the bag that inspired the fabric, Sally had brought the bag to class with her. I kept looking at the woven fabric of Sally's bag -- black alternating with tan -- and the black handles, and thinking that Shetland Black and Grouse would probably go together. [Postscript, August 2007 - the company that made those knitting bags has closed, so those bags are no longer available.]

The afternoon session of class was devoted to intarsia -- which is knitting one fabric consisting of separate blocks of color with separate yarns, usually to make a picture. (You already know that I'm not a huge fan of intarsia, and the Dragon Scarf is stalled only a few more inches along than when you last saw it.) But Sally has some pointers about making intarsia easy. Remember, her target audience is people who have beginning-level knitting skills, and her books are teaching tools. She said, "It's not my mandate to create the most beautiful intarsia designs ever. I'm here to teach you, and then you can go on and knit somebody else's gorgeous intarsia designs."

I was like a knitter hypnotized in that moment, seeing Sally Melville's designs as stepping-stones. After mastering the simple geometrics of a Sally Melville design, one could go on to a Sasha Kagan design, or a Kaffe Fassett design. I was thoroughly persuaded.

In my usual knitting-mode, I have been more in the search-for-perfection knitting camp that Jean Wong resides in. And in this purist, most technical mode, one would knit intarsia with each color block always coming from its own separate yarn supply. One would never carry yarns behind a block of intarsia color. One would weave in ends meticulously.

Sally Melville's philosophy is different. Even before this day, I had read her Knitting Bag Jacket pattern and really been surprised and skeptical at the prospect of carrying the main color(s) behind the intarsia rectangle blocks, even though she says to weave in the color.

But, in person, my response was different. She described, point by point, how she had deliberately designed the pattern to be easy to weave in the main color as you carry it behind. She had deliberately designed each of those intarsia rectangles so that the measuring of the yarns (one thing I most detest) was easy -- the bottom two-thirds of each rectangle is two yards of yarn, and the top of each rectangle is one yard of yarn. And, at one point, she took off the Knitting Bag Jacket that she was wearing and passed it around the room so that we could see it closely.

I would not have wanted to wear Sally Melville's Knitting Bag Jacket inside-out, as I could have the sweaters of Jean Wong. Little yarn tail ends were sticking up. Nevertheless, the weaving in of the main color as you carry it across the intarsia blocks was very neatly done. A detail that is hard to appreciate from the photo of the Jacket is how beautiful the front button band is. It contains Fair Isle squares, bordered by the main sweater color (Grouse). And the button loops alternately are on one side of the button band, then the other, making an interesting zig-zag pattern. (The buttons, too, obviously, alternate from one side to the other.)

At the end of the day, after I'd said good-bye to Anne and Deb
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I went back into the classroom to pack up my stuff, and had a few minutes to talk to Sally. I said, "I love your jacket, but I'm not a Spagnum person. But I'm thinking that perhaps I can use Shetland Black with the Grouse--"

She said, "Oh, you can knit the stripes in whatever color you like. You could use," and here she grabbed up the Knitting Bag jacket (she was wearing it again) at the waistband and held it in front of her, and pointed at the striped background, "a denim blue and charcoal. It doesn't matter. I know one yarn store owner who made this jacket and used all sorts of different colors for the stripes. All sorts of colors. It doesn't matter what colors the stripes are. Just use the same two colors in the Fair Isle band as you do in the duplicate stitch part, to tie it all together."

After this advice, I couldn't wait to get home and start playing with colors. I didn't have time on Monday to do any swatching, but let me show you what I worked up on Tuesday:
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The gray stripe is Oxford, and the blue is Atlantic. They are very close in value, so I feel that these stripes are "why bother?" stripes. (They don't show up well enough against each other to really read as stripes, so, why bother? I'm borrowing this excellent phrase from one of my fellow Feralites, June.) I'll try another swatch on another day, with a darker blue and a lighter gray. Also, this swatch was an opportunity to try Sally's method of weaving in the main color behind the intarsia block. So I feel compelled to make this disclaimer: Not all of my stitches are beautiful, as my intention was to to experiment with colors, and gain some experience with the technique. I went lighter and brighter, using Leprechaun green (Leprechaun being one of my all-time favorite Jamieson's colors), and Lunar as the blue, and Scotch Broom for the yellow. (The other colors -- Dusk, Loganberry, Sunrise, Nutmeg are the same as Sally's design.)

And, as an aside, I left this swatch sitting on the dining room table. Allegra passed by it, and said, without my even calling it to her attention, "What pretty colors!"

Postscript: Anne finished the back and most of one sleeve of her Knitting Bag Jacket, and she's posted a photo on her blog. See it here.


Posted by Karen at 01:24 PM | Comments (8)

February 11, 2006

FINISHING

Finishing. Ah, yes, if only I had more finishing and less starting, in my life....

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While at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat on Friday, I got to spend a little time with some of the knitters I know from the Fiber Traditions list. Left to right, Denise, Laura, Vanessa (wearing her version of Donegal), Angela, and yours truly.

When Vanessa and I finally caught up with each other face-to-face at the retreat, her first words to me were, Did you get all those homework swatches done?

I'm sure you're wondering the same thing, Dear Reader. Well, wonder no more:

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You see that pile of purple swatches in front of me? Those are the infamous homework swatches. And if I look tired in this photo, it was because I'd burned the proverbial midnight oil, getting those swatches knitted. I stayed up until 1:30 in the morning, by which time I'd knitted swatches 1, 2, 3, 4, 6 and 7, from the list of 8. (You'll recall that some swatches, such as numbers 2, 3, and 8, weren't single swatches but required knitting a pair -- 13 swatches in all.) I skipped 5, thinking to myself that in class we might manage to get through our finishing work -- if we were really cooking -- on swatches 1, 2, 3, and 4 before the lunch break, and I figured I could knit number 5 at lunch. Swatches 6 and 7 were knit in the round, and as time was passing into the wee small hours of the morning, I was very concerned with getting those done. When I stopped at 1:30 AM, I figured I could get swatches 5 and 8 knitted at the lunch break or during spare moments in class time. I could tell from the instructions that Swatch[es] #8 was for Japanese short rows for shoulder shaping, and since that is the technique I've already learned and the method I do use for shoulder shaping, I did not feel it would be a loss if I didn't go through the exercise of short rowing in the class. (In other words, I felt I could justify blowing off knitting the pair of Swatches #8.)

So you can imagine my surprise when Jean Wong began the class by saying, Take out swatch #2.

Swatch #2 was a 1x1 rib, and the finishing we learned was an invisible bind-off. I'd never done this before and it was valuable to learn. The technique is to sew through the stitches that you are binding off, sewing them in the pattern as if they were being knitted or purled (similar to Kitchener stitch), and binding them off as you go. It makes a very stretchy bind-off, and would be useful for a toe-up sock. Jean Wong recommended it for binding off button bands, for binding off ribbing on a top-down sweater, and many other uses.

Swatch #2 was one of those for which the homework instructions had read: Make 2. After I and my classmates had struggled along for an hour or so learning this bind-off, Jean indicated that the second swatch of the pair was for us to practice what we'd just learned. Did she hear the groan that passed between Anne and me, or did she notice the two of us rolling our eyes? So much homework, just to have an extra swatch to practice on--?! Jean Wong then said that we'd do seaming in the afternoon, and would seam the pair together.

I was a little unsettled when we'd finished with Swatch #2 and Jean Wong told us to then get out Swatch #4. Clearly my imaginary timetable for the class was unraveling fast.

By the time we were finished with Swatch #4, somebody in the class observed that we had only 15 minutes until the lunch break. There was perhaps that hint that we might wrap up what we were doing and leave for lunch. But Jean Wong believed in making every second count -- and instructed us to next get out . . .(drumroll, please!) . . . Swatch #5.

That was, of course, the swatch that I'd counted on knitting during the lunch break. So much for my theory that we'd use our swatches in numeric order! So while everyone else in the class who'd done their homework was working on their Swatch #5, I used those 15 minutes of class time to go back to my first, deplorable attempt at an invisible bind-off on Swatch #2, rip it out and try again.

When we did break for lunch, I knitted my Swatch Pair #8. And I was glad that I did. Later in the afternoon, when it came time to do the Japanese short rows on that pair of swatches, I got through those in record time. No new learning for me, there -- until Jean Wong had us put the right sides of these two pieces together, and taught us the Japanese method for 3-needle bind-off. If I hadn't gone to the trouble of getting Swatch[es] #8 done, I wouldn't have learned this technique. I'd never seen anything like it! Far superior to the typical 3-needle bind-off. And it makes a very firm shoulder seam, which is a desirable thing.

Jean Wong knows her stuff. She had brought some of her sweaters to show us -- and the inside of the sweaters was just as beautiful as the outside. Her seams were invisible. The most minutest details were accounted for. I aspire to that level of knitting competency.

I admired the buttons on the blue vest she'd brought. She explained that she'd knitted the whole vest, including its button bands, and then went shopping for buttons. She loved these buttons (a swirl of blues and silvery grays), but the store had only three. But she'd knitted 5 buttonholes. So she bought the three buttons, went home and ripped out the button bands, and re-knitted them with only three buttonholes. She got pretty excited about talking about buttons, and wanted to show us a red cardigan. "You can have fun with your buttons," she said. The red cardigan had a closure of seven buttons. Each of those buttons was actually a pair, a small black button stacked on top of a larger red button. Every other button pair was sewn on with red yarn, and the alternating button pair was sewn on with orange yarn. I wouldn't have noticed this alternating red-orange-red-orange-red sewing if she hadn't called my attention to it. "You can have fun," she said. It made me smile, that she described this as fun. Yes, wild and craaazy times, sewing on buttons with orange (instead of red) yarn. (When I used to teach high school drama classes, I would sometimes tell my students, "Take a risk!" Somehow, Jean's admonition that "You can have fun!" seemed emotionally on the same par, for her.)

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Jean Wong, at right, demonstrates the invisible cast-on for 1x1 rib. Anne, at left, prepares to follow along.

At the end of the day, we finally got around to closing that hole in Swatch #1, that I showed you the other day. We learned how to duplicate stitch on the wrong side of the fabric to weave in ends. This was an easy exercise -- most everybody knew how to do this already -- and it brought the day to a nicely non-taxing closure.

Tomorrow's class is "Color at Your Fingertips" with Sally Melville. The homework involves pulling together three or four different colors of yarn, an art book, a piece of cardboard -- and knitting only one swatch (and that one's only 5 rows tall). I think I can handle it.

In Two Swans Yarns news, I'm continuing to work on adding to the site the yarn packs for the Fabulous Felted Bags book. I have a bunch of them listed already, but haven't yet got all 15 listed. If you're looking for a particular one but don't see it yet, just ask. And the books, by the way, arrived on Thursday.

Posted by Karen at 10:21 PM | Comments (3)

February 07, 2006

A HIGH-FIBER WEEK

What I was knitting while watching the Superbowl on Sunday:
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The Salina sweater from Vintage Style. Yarn is Rowan Felted Tweed in the color Rage. I figured the excitement (er, frustration!) of the game required the simplest knitting, so this stockinette project was the order of the day. This piece is the back of the sweater. I'd started it in November with a sleeve, thinking to cleverly make my gauge swatch and first sleeve at the same time (as my Knit-bud Anne does), but, since I'm a tight knitter, I stopped a few inches into it -- my gauge was coming much finer than the pattern calls for. We'll just call that part an interestingly-shaped gauge swatch.

What I was knitting during the Feral Knitters meeting on Monday:
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My hat's still not finished, but she's definitely taller -- can you tell?

I had brought with me to our meeting last night the homework list for the class I'll be taking on Friday at the Madrona Fiber Arts retreat. The class is Japanese Fine Finishing Techniques, and the homework is extensive -- there's a list of 8 swatches. When you read the list closely, however, you realize that the directions for several of the swatches read: Make 2. So there are actually a total of 13 swatches. Oy vay.

So I had brought with me this list, and was attempting to engage the commiseration of my fellow Ferals. They agreed with me that it was a daunting list -- all of the swatches are sizeable. They empathized with my hope that the learning from the class will be worth the time and effort put into the homework.

The instructor for this class, Jean Wong, will be arriving in Seattle tomorrow afternoon, and giving a presentation to Seattle Knitters Guild tomorrow evening. As a board member of the Guild, I had volunteered to meet Jean when she arrives and to chauffeur her around town until the evening's presentation. However, due to complicated scheduling conflicts at home, I had to offer up this chauffeuring opportunity to someone else on the board. I mentioned this to the Ferals, and said, "I'll be using that time on Wednesday that I would've been chauffeuring her around town, to knit her homework swatches instead." But then I realized that maybe I'd missed a great opportunity: "Y'know, I could've had her all alone, and asked, 'Do I really need to knit all of those homework swatches? Just between you'n'me, Jean, which ones are the most important?' "

But the Ferals all immediately produced this vision of me, waiting in my car and knitting curbside. "You just run on into that yarn shop, there, Jean, and enjoy yourself while I knit these homework swatches!"

But, alas, since I relinquished the chauffeuring duties, neither of these scenarios are going to come to pass.

But Feralite Andrea offered to do me this favor: "I'll go up to her after her Guild presentation tomorrow night, and I'll say, 'I have this friend who's going to be in your finishing class, and she wants to know if she really has to knit all of those homework swatches.' "

I related all of this to Knit-bud Anne, who will be taking the Finishing Techniques class with me. Anne thought it would've been even better if I'd managed to do the chaufeuring, after all -- "Jean, why don't you do the driving, and I will direct you where to go while I knit a dozen swatches for your class?"

What I knitted this morning:

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Homework Swatch #1. Yes, it's supposed to have that hole in the middle.

What arrived today:

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The yarn packs for the new book, Nicky Epstein's Fabulous Felted Bags -- hooray! And the books are being shipped to Two Swans Yarns today, so I should have them by Friday.

The bag designs that you see in the group shot above are (reading each stack from top to bottom, and starting at the stack on the left): Yei Figures, Wisteria, Circles, Purple Roses, Striped Houndstooth, Bobbles and Brambles, Queen's Ball, Flapper, Jacobean, and Fuchsias. (The Jacobean is one and the same as the Floral Felted Bag -- which has been far and away the most popular project at Two Swans Yarns, and I'm very happy to see it now offered in a yarn pack. So much more efficient, for picking and packing orders.)

Check out these three whimsical bags:

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Frog. It's a small handbag -- would be great for a child, or for a young-at-heart grown-up.

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Cat and Mouse. The bag is the cat, and the mouse is dangling from its mouth. I've got to say, Nicky Epstein has quite the imagination.

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S'wanderful. The bag is the swan's body, the handle is the neck, and the stuffed head attaches the other end of the handle to the bag. Yes, I might just have to make this one.

(Not pictured are Abbondanza and Tropicana, because I blogged about them earlier.)

Also, the new (Spring 2006) issue of Interweave Knits arrived.

I'll be getting all of these items up on the Two Swans website as soon as humanly possible -- as early as this evening. Stay tuned!

Wednesday: Guild meeting

Thursday: Homework knitting

Friday: Japanese Fine Finishing class, taught by Jean Wong

Sunday: Color at Your Fingertips class, taught by Sally Melville

Definitely a fiber-full week!


Posted by Karen at 03:41 PM | Comments (4)

February 02, 2006

SEIZE THE DAY!

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Wishing you a happy one!

I'll be putting pink yarns on sale for this month, so check the Two Swans Yarns specials page later this afternoon to see what's available.

Posted by Karen at 08:18 AM | Comments (1)