March 31, 2006

LUPINE LACE SOCK-ALONG

For Patti, who wanted a better view of the Lupine Lace Socks:

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I've started a Lupine Lace Socks knit-along on Yahoo groups. Click here to go to the group's home page. Hope you'll knit along with me!

Reminder: You have until midnight tonight (March 31), PST, to enter the contest over at Jewel's Purls. What are you waiting for?


Posted by Karen at 08:29 AM | Comments (3)

March 30, 2006

THE DEVIL IS IN THE DETAILS

In Fall of '04 I took a class on color theory taught by Peg McNair, a local weaver with a national reputation. I remember Peg talking about the creative process, and saying that when we get stuck on a project that's not turning out as we thought it would, we have a tendency to want to put the project away in a drawer. The work troubles us or revulses us, and we don't want to look at it any more since it holds up to us our own shortcomings. Peg does not think this response is helpful.

"You should leave your project out where you can pass by it several times a day," she said, "so that you are constantly stimulating yourself with it." And, she promised, the next step that we should take on the project would occur to us, and sooner than if we had put it away where we couldn't see it.

Remembering this advice, I've kept my Level 2 vest on the windowseat in my bedroom. I see it every time I'm in the hallway anywhere near my bedroom; I see it before I go to sleep at night, and it's one of the first things I see each morning. Seeing it as often as I have, I've grown rather fond of it, even as I see places where it could be improved.

The vest is 19-1/2 inches long, and 252 stitches around. I knitted 19 inches of that vest, and not until we were on the plane coming home from Florida and I was power-knitting to finish off the shoulders did I see this coming (these photos are a birdseye view from the top of the shoulder):

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That circled half of a snowflake on the back of the vest does not match up with

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this circled half of a snowflake on the front of the vest.

So I had knitted along, 19 and more inches of vest over a period of months, and it surprised the hell out of me when I got to those last couple of rounds and discovered that my snowflakes were offset by a few inches.

They did not line up because I in my wisdom naivete, way back when I started this vest, chose to use an odd number of repeats of the snowflake pattern. Given the gauge I was working, 8 repeats of the pattern would have been too small, and 10 would have been too large, but 9 was just right.

Had I used 8 or 10 repeats, though, my half-snowflakes would have met and made one continuous snowflake over the top of the shoulder. It would have been a beautiful thing.

Experience is a powerful teacher, isn't it?

So seeing that vest laid out on the windowseat has given rise to lots of musing on my part about principles of good composition. Just as a drawing can be well composed, just as a short story can be well composed, just as a plaid dress can have its plaids matching at the seams -- so, too, can a piece of knitting be well composed.

So I'm choosing to knit the vest over, in order to have a shoulder seam where the motifs match, front and back; also to improve a couple of other minor points in the knitting. By going down to 8 pattern repeats and going up one needle size, I'll have a gauge that will fit and snowflakes that will match.

(Quite frankly I do not know whether the Master Knitting Committee would pass the prototype vest, or not, with the motifs not matching at the shoulders. But when I see so very clearly that the prototype can be made better, I'm choosing to reknit it.)

In Two Swans Yarns news: Four just-published patterns are hot off the presses and newly listed on the Two Swans site, two from Fiber Trends and two from Knitting Pure & Simple:

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Diamonds for Rhiannon, a baby blanket designed by Bev Galeskas. (I got in the baby yarn for this item, too.)

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And Evelyn Clark gives us another great lace pattern, Lupine Lace Socks, using your favorite sock yarn and mine, Lorna's Laces.

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A cardigan for men, knitted from the top down. (This pattern has lots of adjustments for width and length.) Shown in the picture is a zippered front closure, but the directions also include a buttonband front closure.

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A wrap-front cardigan, also knitted from the top down. (I've always wanted to make a ballerina sweater like this, and I've had a Jaeger pattern for one in stash for years -- I suspect this Knitting Pure & Simple one will be much easier to knit.)

And, just for fun, a pattern that isn't new on the market but one that tickled me to find and bring in to my store:

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The April Fools Socks! This is a design by Lisa Parker, who also designed what's been a very popular pattern at Two Swans, the Wildhorse Farms Gansey Socks.

Posted by Karen at 08:34 AM | Comments (3)

March 27, 2006

YOUR CHANCE TO WIN!

I could go on at great length about the little knitting progress I made this weekend on the Salina sweater and Take #2 of my Level 2 vest (the one I plan to submit for the Master Knitter program), but --

-- instead, let me direct you over to Jewel's Purls, where Jewel and I are holding a contest. Guess what it is that Jewel has photographed, e-mail in your answer to Jewel, and you could win a really fun prize! Get yourself over there and check it out -- there's no time to lose -- winner to be announced on April Fool's Day.

Posted by Karen at 03:03 PM | Comments (6)

March 23, 2006

NUMBER ONE KNITTING PRIORITY

I thought I'd have the opportunity to blog while I was away in Florida, and keep up with reading other knitters' blogs, and be a good e-mail penpal to everyone I correspond with. Our previous trips to Pittsburgh, Mexico, San Antonio had all afforded me plenty of time on the computer. But on this trip Scott was in meetings every day -- and he took his laptop with him. The nerve.

It's all good, though. I focused on my Number One Knitting Priority, my vest that I'm designing and plan to submit for Level II of TKGA's master knitter program.

When we left for Florida, I was only two or three rounds into the armhole, so I had about 10 more inches of vest to knit, plus finishing the ribbings. In a moment of foresight, I'd brought with me extra yarn in all three colors (Lilac for the main color, Natural White for the contrast color, and Hyacinth for the tipped ribbing). I was into the next ball of Natural White before we even landed in Florida; the ball of main color I was working on was, likewise, a fresh one.

I felt super-motivated to get as much of the vest knitted as possible, because I was teaching a mini-class at Seattle Knitters Guild about Fair Isle knitting the evening of the same day we came back home. My initial goal was to get the vest entirely finished, and be able to wear it to the presentation; this goal was revised for the more realistic goal of getting the body finished so that I could demonstrate how to cut steeks. I thought this would be an even more valuable lesson than simply looking at somebody wearing a Fair Isle vest and wondering, How did she do that? I think that, just looking at a finished garment, it is a mystery to the uninitiated about what the steeks look like, or what the garment's shape is.

In Florida, I carried the vest around with me everywhere, and knitted at every opportunity. I didn't have a proper knitting bag, but carried the WIP around in an opaque green shopping bag that I got from the hotel's gift shop.

By the time it was time to pack for the trip home, I had knitted almost to the top of the shoulders, and had only a few rounds more to go. I carefully put into my carry-on a spare ball of the white yarn I'm using for contrast color, and a spare ball of the darker yarn I'm using for the tipped ribbing -- this latter just in case I might happen to get any of the ribbings at armhole or neck finished off during the flight. I popped into my carry-on the opaque green bag with the WIP. But I put into my checked luggage the spare hank of Lilac, the main color.

After we'd boarded the plane, in that long wait for takeoff, I pulled out the vest-in-progress from the green shopping bag, ready to settle in for the transcontinental flight and the hours of knitting ahead. And I just about shot out of my seat to debark the plane, run down to the cargo hold, rummage around for my suitcase, rummage around in that suitcase for the spare hank of Lilac. The ball of Lilac I had with me was only about an inch in diameter. (Because the shopping bag was opaque, because I was stranding the yarn through my hands without removing the balls of yarn from the bag so as to keep them clean, I had never even looked to see how much Lilac was left.) I did not know if I had enough to finish the several rounds at the shoulder, let alone bind off the shoulder seam. Certainly it wasn't going to be enough to even think about picking up for any ribbings at armhole or neck.

I took a deep breath, and knitted one stitch at a time, one round at a time. I had enough yarn for nine rounds. Miraculously, this ended me right at the center of a motif. Even more miraculously, the armhole was now about 10 inches deep -- it was the perfect place to stop.

After I'd knitted that last round and bound off my steeks, I had about two yards of yarn left. I didn't know if that would be enough to bind off at the shoulders, but I was really pushing to get as much done as possible before teaching the class that night. I pressed on with the shoulder bind-off, and was able to complete both shoulders, with about 12 inches of yarn left over.

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(The brown threads you see through the center steek in the photo above are to mark the place where I want to cut open the steek.)

So, I knitted half a vest in 5 days! It felt like ages since I'd done so much knitting. I got to that zenlike state, beyond being excited about knitting the vest (my own design!), beyond being bored with so much knitting on and on of this one project (couldn't I sneak a few stitches into one of the four other projects I'd brought?), past all of these to where it was just knitting.

What's the status of my Number One Knitting Priority now, one week later? Sometime during that trip to Florida, I started thinking of this vest as a prototype. I see about four things that I think I can improve. . . .

You see, this is the kind of path you go down when you enter the Master Knitter program, and the directions tell you to "send in your best work."

Posted by Karen at 12:48 PM | Comments (3)

March 09, 2006

TRUST THE EXPERTS?

Okay, I've put it off as long as I can . . . but today is the day I must get the guest room ready and clean house for the arrival of my sister and her husband, who are going to house-, pet-, and kid-sit for us while Scott and I are in Florida. I've puttered at cleaning, but today I've got to get in high gear, because -- they arrive this afternoon!

But not before I take a few minutes to blog about this:

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This morning I finished the back of the Salina sweater! I love to start a day with a feeling of accomplishment, like this.

Now, Maggie Righetti says in her excellent book, Sweater Design in Plain English, that she has seen more sweaters ruined by having the center back neck stitches bound off. When bound off, those stitches are not as stretchy as if they had been left "live." In consequence, the neck opening for the sweater is not as stretchy, the wearer can't get the neck opening over his or her head. A sweater ruined. That's the term she uses: Ruined. Leave those stitches live, she writes, then use the live stitches when making the neckband.

Jean Wong, in the class I took from her recently, said quite the opposite. Always bind off the stitches at the neck, she said, so that they are more sturdy. The sweater gets a lot of stress at that area (from being put on and taken off, from the weight of the sweater hanging from the neck), and you want to have sturdy stitches there. Stitches left live, then incorporated into a neckband will stretch under the stress.

So, who are you gonna believe?

(You'll notice I bound off my center back neck stitches. Salina has a front opening placket, so if the worst case scenario is true and my bound-off neck stitches won't stretch, the neck opening should still be wide enough that I can get the sweater over my head. Knock on wood, it won't be ruined. And, let me digress a moment, here -- I can't get over how much those double-ended stitch holders look like the curlers my sisters to wear, back in the days of my childhood.)

And, just to recap our Ferals meeting from last Monday night -- let's be sure to bash that stereotype that knitting is for genteel, grandmotherly types. No, two of our group nearly came to blows in an argument over a ball of Kidsilk Haze:

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Rebecca (beginning a hat for the Dulaan Project, stranding together some green worsted weight with some pink thick-and-thin novelty yarn that had been off-loaded onto her by another knitter): I got this KSH Blushes from my Better Pal, and I'm going to make myself a scarf with it. How do you think the Dulaan hat looks, so far?

Ryan (noticing that the pink Blushes goes well with the novelty yarn): It would look better if you put that Blushes into it.

Rebecca: You mean, make a cloud hat???

Ryan: Yes. For those kids in the orphanage.

Rebecca: But -- Blushes is my Project Spectrum knitting!

Ryan: You could be using that Blushes in a hat for my kids. My kids!

Rebecca: But -- my Better Pal gave me this Blushes!

Etcetera.

Maybe you had't've been there.

Now, really, I can't put it off any longer. Must clean house.

(Scott and I leave tomorrow, and return on the 15th. I'll take my camera and laptop and hope to blog while we're away. My Level II vest is my Number One Priority Project for this trip.)

Posted by Karen at 08:30 AM | Comments (5)

March 06, 2006

A NIGHTCAP

Over the weekend, I received a lengthy thank-you letter from our accountant's wife, the woman for whom I made the chemo cap. She wrote about her progress with chemotherapy; she seems to be doing well with it. She reported that the cap arrived the day before her hair started falling out -- and that she's worn it often. She wrote that it "is [her] choice for bedtime." (Who'd've thunk -- I made a nightcap?) But, seriously, I got a little choked up, reading her letter. May we all have such grace and optimism.

In other knitting news, I am within spitting distance of finishing the back for the Salina sweater. (Spitting distance? What a turn of phrase. I really really REALLY thought I'd have the thing finished by this morning so that I could post a photo, here, but my tape measure tells me it just isn't time, yet.) I can't say enough how wonderful it is to have a simple stockinette project like this with you at all times, something that you can just pick up and put down on the fly -- it's been a great project to have handy lately while I've been observing Allegra's dance lessons (her springtime dance schedule being much more intense than last fall). Just a couple more rows, then some Japanese short row shaping for the shoulders and then . . . I'll be whisking my knitting needles against each other like a chef sharpening up his Ginsu knife . . . and be ready to cast on for the front of the sweater.

And I'm back to working on my Level II vest, the purple-and-white Fair Isle number that I've been designing. Scott and I will be leaving on a trip for Florida at the end of the week, and I'll be taking the vest along for airpline knitting. I'm keeping my fingers crossed to get a lot done on it while we're away.

Posted by Karen at 01:54 PM | Comments (4)

March 01, 2006

IRRESISTIBLE!

In the I-Can-Resist-Everything-But-Temptation Department:

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It has never been the mission of Two Swans Yarns to encourage people to knit novelty yarn scarves. (There are plenty of yarn stores out there encouraging this, already.) Rather, it's always been the mission to promote traditional knitting using natural fibers.

So, in January, when Fiber Trends published its Huggable Hedgehogs pattern, I was captivated by the charm of the little critters -- even if their spikes are knitted from polyester fake fur yarn. You see, chez Campbell, we used to have a pet hedgehog named Zoe. When my daughter Allegra was in the first grade, she loved the books written and illustrated by Jan Brett. (You remember The Mitten?) Often these stories will have a hedgehog in them; even if the hedgehog isn't an active character in the book, you'll be able to find a hedgehog (or two) within the page's illustrations or illustrated borders. Jan Brett even has a website and Allegra wrote to her (via that website) to ask about the care and feeding of a hedgehog, and Jan Brett wrote back! And Allegra and I attended a 4-H Super Saturday presentation about hedgehogs and the hedgehog 4-H club. So it was only a matter of time before Scott and I were driving out to Auburn, Washington, to buy a baby hedgehog. (The more the merrier -- our menagerie at that time was three dogs, three cats, three horses.)

To be successful as pets, hedgehogs have to be played with and carried around a lot, so that they are used to being handled. (Otherwise, they will hiss, stay rolled up in a ball, and be disagreeable.) I didn't mind handling Zoe -- she wasn't prickly when you handled her, but my hands would tingle for awhile afterward. But after a few months, the novelty of playing with her wore off; Allegra had never been that keen on handling her pet. Zoe had a tremendous will to escape her cage, and would go running around the house at night (hedgehogs are nocturnal). It was quite frightening to be startled awake by what would seem (to the half-awake mind) to be a rat rummaging through our bedroom. And, what was the worst part: hedgehogs eat about one tablespoon of hedgehog food per day, but they produce about three times that much poop. Stinky poop. So I gave Zoe to a sixth grade teacher I knew, and Zoe became the classroom pet; this teacher had had hedgehog class pets before, and that was a happy resolution for all of us.

We still like the romantic idea of pet hedgehogs; we still like those Jan Brett illustrations. So, the instant that I knew that Fiber Trends was publishing the felted hedgehog pattern, I ordered them. I thought the pattern might not be the best fit for my store, but I couldn't resist. Gratifyingly, I sold out of the first shipment of patterns right away -- which meant that the pattern was indeed a good match for my customer base. I toyed with getting in the polyester fake fur yarn, in a cycle of thought that went: But the hedgehogs are so cute! But Two Swans carries only traditional yarns! But those cute little faces -- even you, Karen, you want to knit and felt one of these irresistible little critters!

And, as one thing leads to another, it was only a matter of time before customers who'd bought the pattern from me then started requesting the Temptation yarn. So, here it is -- the authentic, genuine, dyed-in-the-polyester yarn to make your hedgehog with, kitted up with the wools used for the body and paws.

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In other Two Swans Yarns news, I think the just-published book by Fiona Ellis, Inspired Cable Knits, is my new favorite knitting book. The display fonts used for chapter headings are beautiful (like calligraphy); the text layout and photographs are a feast for the eyes. Fiona Ellis writes about what inspired each of the designs -- this cable looks like tree bark, that cable looks like a yoga pose -- so the book is a feast for the imagination, as well. And her target audience is those of us who come to knitting as a contemplative, meditative activity, so, sprinkled throughout the book, are little moments of philosophical insights about the process of knitting, about the relationship of knitter to knitting. Yes, there are instructions and techniques included in this book (you could be a complete newbie to cable knitting and be off to an excellent start, following her instructions), but I'm finding that her pointers of what to focus on in the process of knitting this cable or that are what stay with me. And, it probably goes without saying, with her focus on yoga and knitting as meditation, Fiona Ellis's patterns all use natural fibers.

There was a time when I devoured every new knitting book and magazine that came along. I wrote reviews of books for the Guild newsletter, I practically memorized the patterns in the magazines. When I was an employee in a retail yarn shop, I was a veritable fount of info for the customers ("Oh, you can find this kind of pattern for this yarn in such-and-such issue of Knitter's;" "Oh, you can find that kind of pattern in such-and-such issue of Interweave Knits.") These days, I'm busier and I just don't have that same routine of soaking in a hot bath reading a knitting publication every evening that I did five years ago. However, Inspired Cable Knits is definitely re-inaugurating that routine for me -- there is just so much in its pages that I want to spend time savoring them.

Two Swans Yarns has some yarns for some of the projects in this book, including the cover sweater. I'm working on getting all of the information listed on the website.

Posted by Karen at 03:34 PM | Comments (3)