Monday, May 29, 2006

What Spinning Teaches Me About Knitting, part 4

Now that I know how much yarn I have, how do I know if it's enough?

I find a similar project with known yardage requirements, and work from there.

In this case, I wanted half-fingered gloves. I couldn't find a pattern for them, but I did know that these

take one skein of Virtue, which is about 75 yards.

From there, I knew I'd have to add yardage for the fingers. I also knew I'd have to revise the yardage estimate upward, because the gauntlets were knit at a gauge of 5 sts per inch, and I was planning to knit the knew gloves at 5.5 or 6 sts per inch--and the same project knit at a smaller gauge requires more yardage. A 40" sweater at 3 sts per inch takes 800+ yards; at 6 sts per inch, over 2000.

I still felt pretty confident with my 200 yards. But just to be safe, I planned my knitting around the limited supply. Here are the principles I use for yarn-efficient knitting:

1. If the project has several of something, they should be done first (or at least, early. If you're going to run out of yarn, it shouldn't be after the 7th finger of a pair of gloves.

2. If the project has two of something, they should be done together. Both sleeves, both socks, whatever. In the case of the gauntlets pictured above, I used two sets of needles and worked one from the outside of the ball and one from the inside. When I started to get near the end of the ball, I'd work one round on the first gauntlet, then one round on the other, to make sure they came out even.

3. Failing that, divide the yarn in half. You may remember seeing this picture

and wondering why there were three balls, since I kept talking about measuring two bobbins' worth and counting two skeins' worth. It's because I divided the yarn before I took the picture: I'd established that my two skeins were uneven, so, when I would the larger one, I separated it into two pieces in such a way that the smaller one plus the other skein would equal the larger one. (How? I already knew how many strands or loops there were in each skein. I tied something bright to one spoke of the swift and counted how many times it flew by; one revolution = one loop.)

4. Decide where length is expendable. Sometimes it's the sleeves of a sweater, sometimes it's the length; usually, it's the leg of a sock. In this case, it was (pretty obviously) the cuff.

5. Do that part last. That way, you can go until the yarn runs out, then stop. This is why top-down sweaters are considered so yarn-efficient, and it's one of the great reasons to do socks from the toe up.

According to these rules, I'd want to start by making all the mini-fingers of my gloves, then do the hand, and finish with the cuff. And there are ways to make gloves from fingertip to cuff; for one, see Latvian Dreams.

But working the fingers from the top down doesn't facilitate gussets between the fingers, and I love gussets between the fingers. (You know what a gusset is, right? It's a triangular section of fabric that eases the stress where several corners meet.) They prevent gaps where the fingers meet each other and the hand, improve the fit, and save wear and tear on the fabric.

So how do you knit the fingers from bottom to top, but the cuff from palm toward elbow? As I'm writing this, I considered the word "wrist" in that sentence instead of the word "palm," and "wrist" would have been a better choice: not just for the sentence, but for the project. But what I did instead was to use my favorite provisional cast-on (the one where you crochet a chain out of waste yarn, then pick up sts through the bumps on the underside) to cast on 38 sts. That was the spot just above where the thumb would split off. I began knitting in the round for the upper area of the palm, decreasing two sts after 1 round (for a tiny gusset above what would become the thumb opening).

From there, I made half-fingered gloves as usual:

Then, I went back to the palm and undid the provisional cast-on and worked down from there. This meant that, almost immediately, I needed to work a thumb gusset in reverse: I put a few sts on a holder at the thumb spot, used a provisional cast-on again to cast on about 12 sts in the gap, and then gradually decreased the 12 sts down to 2 in the usual way. (In this case, I think it was "Dec 1 st each side every third round 3 times then every 4th round 2 times.")

Soon after the thumb gusset was done, it was time for the cuff. I used a 1x1 ribbing, just because I always do 2x2 and I was bored.

By this time, it was more than apparent that my yarn supply was going to hold out. In fact, I had started with the smallest ball, and I hadn't finished it yet. I ribbed as long as I wanted to, but it seemed silly to go to the elbow just for the sake of using up the yarn, so I stopped. Then I retrieved the stitches from the holder and cast-on at the thumb, worked a few rounds, and called it a day.

I repeated the same procedure (more or less--the first glove wasn't with me when I got to the thumb opening of the second, and I forgot that I'd done a provisional cast-on at that point, so I used a cable cast-on, and then picked up stitches when it was time to finish the thumb) once more.

Now I have gloves

and two balls of leftover yarn (one about 100 yards, one much less). The fit of the gloves isn't perfect (a little baggy in the palm--next time, I'm going to try a few shortrows along the back, as in the Fiber Trends felted mitten pattern), but I like the color effect very much: the strange earthy tones and the random (!) distribution make it all look very organic to me, like moss growing over rocks maybe.

Thursday, May 25, 2006

Clap If You Believe In Stash Knitting

I bought a skein of yarn at the Sheep and Wool Festival, to make Suzanne a scarf. The yarn was dyed by Roz Houseknecht of Dyed Dreams and is half wool, half silk. I chose a nice simple chevron stitch, planning to vary it with occasional random purl ridges:

It looked nice enough, but those blasted purl ridges were giving me fits: the amount of work it took to space them "randomly" was going to kill me. (Was this one too close to the last? If the next one is going to be in the third column, can I put this one in the second?) So the project . . . kind of . . . waited.

Did I mention that this was Sheep and Wool Festival '97? Or possibly '98. But I'm pretty sure it was before Diana was born (1999).

Along comes the Clapotis. And a couple weeks ago, Robin

and Wendy

brought in skeins of 50/50 wool/silk from Dyed Dreams that they were planning to use for it.

Insert image of lightbulb popping on here.

Technical notes: I took out several repeats in the width (my long straight section was 84 sts wide, not 112), but I added a couple in length. (I wanted a scarf, not a shawl.) I was surprised to see how much longer it got when the stitches were dropped, not just how much wider. The pattern is very well written and the knitting proceeds completely without fuss. But. There is some danger of dying of boredom. At about 60% through, I realized that I might never be able to look at the thing again if I looked at it much longer, so I sprinted through the rest. (The last corner was knit on Sunday night, largely in my sleep. I've never done that before, kept knitting even though I was dozing off every two or three stitches.)

In other news, Wendy finished her Pi Shawl

and found a way to wear it that pleases her. (Circular shawls are maybe a little trickier than triangles or oblongs in that respect. One must practice the art of the fling, and perhaps acquire a shawl pin.)
Marissa is making a Star Cluster Shawl

using two strands of Koigu.
Sherry is making Staggering Fisherman socks out of Anne, and Hannah has a sock doing something amazingly spiral with a bright pink-red-purple skein of Koigu, but those pictures were totally out of focus. Maybe I'll do better next week.

Friday, May 19, 2006

On the Horizon

Although I wish I had more time to knit, I also enjoy thinking about knitting and writing about knitting. This blog is a great forum for some of that, but there are some topics that need more: more time to compose, more space (or different layout), more careful attention from any hypothetical reader. That doesn't mean they belong in a book or a magazine, but they do seem to belong on paper.

I think it's a category that's sadly overlooked right now. We've all seen designs in magazines that were so thought-provoking that we immediately wanted to see multiple variations--but a magazine's space and scheduling constraints mean that there are never more than one or two versions. And we've all seen books that looked like they were basically one idea--one chapter--stretched out to fill 112 pages.

There's also a frustrating split between two kinds of content. There are books "about" knitting, which have charming anecdotes and no patterns; and there are books and magazines full of patterns, which may include a few paragraphs about the theory behind some of the designs or an unusual technique. But if there were to be a subject that required both color photographs and extended discussion, and maybe never got around to mentioning exactly how many stitches to cast on, I don't know where it would find a home.

Which brings me to a new project, the Noshi Knitting monograph series. It's meant to provide this kind of medium-sized structure for something too in-depth, too narrowly defined, or just too far off the beaten track for any other forum.

I have a partner in this venture, who has already discussed it from her own platform. She's a much more creative knitter than I'll ever be (this is where you can find out more about the part-mohair, part-aluminum garment you may have seen us working on in the shop over the last couple months), but I think she appreciates my ability to spot dangling modifiers.

Click over and have a look if you're curious.

Monday, May 15, 2006

What Spinning Teaches Me About Knitting, part 3

In our last episode . . . I thought I had 225 yards of DK-weight yarn, and that this would be enough for a pair of half-fingered gloves. A big part of what I've learned from spinning is how to tell how much yarn I have, and another big part is how to make it go the furthest. So how did I know I had 225 yards?

My first recourse when I have "mystery" yarn (pretty much anything with no label) is a McMorran Balance. It looks like this:

The idea is simple: that plexiglass crossbar is a fixed weight. You cut a piece of yarn and hang it in the little notch at the end of the crossbar.

Then you snip pieces off the strand until the crossbar rests level in its grooves.

Then you measure the length of the strand (in inches or in centimeters, depending on whether your balance is metric or English. The instructions will tell you which.).

Then you multiply that number by 100, and the result is the number of yards in a pound of that yarn.

Next, you weigh your total amount of yarn:

If I have a lot of yarn, I take it to a deli or salad-bar place and ask to weigh it on their electronic scale. But anything under 4 ounces goes on my handy-dandy postage scale. This is what our grandparents used to figure out whether a letter needed a second stamp. You can still buy them at good office-supply places.

Then, the math: if there are 1450 yards in a pound, and I have 1.25 ounces, then . . . hmm. Well, 1450 yards per pound (YPP) means 90.625 yards per ounce (YPP ÷ 16). Multiply that by 1.25, and it yields . . . 113.28 yards of mystery yarn.

There are two circumstances under which I won't use the McMorran balance: sometimes, a yarn is so precious that I'm not willing to waste even 12" of it; sometimes, a yarn is so uneven that I don't think any specific strand can give me an accurate measure.

That was the case with my handspun. So, I resorted to Method 2: counting the strands. This only works with yarn in hanks, not balls.
First, I lay out the skein on a flat surface, and lay a tape measure on top of it in the middle of the hank:

I'm hoping for a measurement of the average circumference of the hank--the average length of yarn in one "lap" around the track. (With my own handspun, I take a shortcut: all my skeins are wound on my niddy-noddy, and I've measured one pass around that as 54" [1.5 yards]. As the skein gets thicker, each pass gets longer, but I ignore that in my calculations, since I'd rather have a conservative figure.)
Next, I count how many strands there are in the hank:

This makes me look like a lunatic, especially with large skeins, but it's worth it.
You can guess the next part: total yardage = avg circumference x number of strands.

In the case of the Blue-Faced Leicester, I had one hank with something like 105 strands and another with 47. This meant 152 strands of about 1.5 yards apiece: in theory, 227 yards.

Next time: what made me think 227 yards was good for a pair of gloves?

Thursday, May 11, 2006

I've never seen anything like it

Yes, there it is: 6--count 'em, six--virtually identical skeins of Schaefer Yarns Anne. In a lovely colorway, to boot.

Isn't this what's never supposed to happen? We have enough trouble getting Anne in doubles (for large shawls), and we're always on the lookout for triplets (since some people want to make a sweater). And now, suddenly, this!

What to do? I don't know anyone who's been looking for 6. But it seems such a shame to break up the set.

Perhaps we should have a lottery. Or an essay contest: 500 words about your proposed project.

3360 yards. Tablecloth? Bedspread? Dress with matching tights?

Wednesday, May 10, 2006

More images from Maryland Sheep & Wool

The yarn-starved masses begin to assemble:

Our fearless leader:

Upon disembarking, the Rosie's green backpack is everywhere:

Here's what we came for:

and also this:

Prizewinning entries, including handspun:

a felted objet d'art:

and a lovely fair isle mitten:

See you next year!

Monday, May 08, 2006

Sheep & Wool Festival Report

I'm still exhausted, and I'd rather be playing with my new fiber, but here's a brief recap:

The early bus left on time! (Plus or minus about 3 minutes, which I think is pretty good.)

The late bus left on time!

We did guess right about when the traffic gets bad: although the early bus left only 30 minutes earlier than the late bus, it arrived on the fairgrounds an hour earlier. (Note to self: 7 a.m. departure next year?)

I can't tell you about the melee at the Koigu booth, because I avoided it. Instead, my first stop was to visit our newest colleague, Anna:

She spent the weekend at the Kiparoo Farm booth, because that's what she's always done. She said that people started coming into their booth at 8:10 in the morning--despite the fact that the show didn't open until 9.

Then I headed up the hill to buy a t-shirt for Suzanne. (In a ridiculous coincidence of childcare snafus, involving both a cardiac catheterization procedure and a performance of Lohengrin, Suze wound up staying home on Saturday. Her only request was that I get a t-shirt, since they'd likely be sold out by Sunday morning. As, in fact, they were.) The line for t-shirts and other Festival-logo merchandise was long:

I spent about 45 minutes in it.

Then came the shopping. I bought only two skeins of yarn for myself--more Brooks Farm mohair--and a couple skeins for friends who couldn't make it this year. The rest was all spinning fiber.

I'm not going to show you any more pictures, though, because what struck me this year wasn't the stuff I saw, but what I heard at the Festival:

--Music: harp, banjo, hammered dulcimer, bagpipe, country ensemble with fiddle, recorder.

--Cell phones: I predict that, within three years, no one will be allowed onto the fairgrounds without one. Favorite overheard line: "Can you see me now? I'm the one waving."

--Other bits of conversation: ". . . he's still finishing up his last exam." "Every year, I find you on this same bench." ". . . world-class working dog just herded your wife . . . " "See, honey? He likes me. Now we have to take him home" [said by a guy holding a lamb while his wife shopped for yarn].

--The PA announcer. People who'd left dogs in their cars (don't get me started), people who'd left credit cards at booths, the beginning of various events. And then best of all . . .

--The huge collective sigh of relief, accompanied by clapping and some cheers, that rose from all sides when they announced that the "lost" 4-year old boy they'd been talking about for the previous ten minutes was, in fact, with his mother at the car. ("Security, if you've still got Dad, please bring him back to the information tent.") I always feel like the Festival is about the safest place I ever am in the course of the whole year, but for a few minutes there, it felt like part of the real world.

--And over it all, of course, the incessant baa-ing, near and far.

A lot of this is wasted on the knitters, who seem to go deaf shortly after arrival. My personal theory is that we're so incredibly focused on what we're seeing, and, to a lesser extent, on what we're touching, that there's just no attention left for hearing. But haven't you noticed that you can call someone's name, even when they're only 8 feet from you and there's no one in between, and they'll just completely walk by you? You have to reach out a hand and grab them to get their attention.

So that's my report. We got home on time, and no one was left on the fairground. There is, however, a double-pointed needle, US #7, that was found on the early bus after everyone debarked. If it's yours, please come to the shop and claim it.

Same time next year!

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Lace Lovers...

...check out the Lace Extravaganza at the Knitting Beyond the Hebrides site. All kinds of interesting stuff going on there, including on-line tutorials and contests.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

What Spinning Teaches Me About Knitting, pt. 2

Yes, it's been many months since Part 1 of this series, but that's how I spin: irregularly in every sense, with tendencies toward thin yarn and Spring.

Why Spring? I know I'm not alone in looking at last year's Sheep and Wool Festival stash as I see this year's Festival approaching. My goal recently has been to spin something I bought last year before I go to buy more this year.

Toward that end, last week I returned to this:

It moved to the wheel shortly after that photo was taken, and then stayed there unattended for 10 months or so. It's Blue-Faced Leicester from Earth Songs Fiber.

I didn't really remember much about what I'd been trying to do--I know I didn't have a particular project in mind, but was there a weight I was aiming for? I settled for something vague, like "not too skinny."

The roving was dyed quite irregularly, which pleased me, since (if you recall Part 1) one of the things I struggle with in my spinning is the urge to micromanage. If the colors were regular--in sequence or in spacing or anything--I'd be trying to arrange for them to be evenly distributed in the finished yarn, splitting the roving to create two hypothetically equal plies, etc.

Instead, I just sat myself down and started in.

While I spun, two thoughts kept recurring. The first was, "This is only 4 ounces of roving, but it feels like it's taking forever to spin. Isn't that a sign that I'm spinning too thin a strand?"

The second was about randomness. That's what everyone wants in a multi-colored yarn, right? There are so many complaints about what the colors "do" when the yarn is knit up. Do they streak? Stripe? Pool? Zigzag? Unless the design is specifically written around the particular color effect of the particular yarn, frustration is everywhere. Because very few yarns have truly random color distribution: machines may vary how long each color segment is, but seldom the color sequence; hand-dyers work with yarn wound into hanks, which pretty much guarantees some fixed intervals of color.

When I spin from a roving, however, the situation is different. First, roving is dyed (or, more often, painted) as a single long strand. So, although the dyer has the option to use a repeating color sequence, there's no need to do so. And even if the color sequence repeats, the interval doesn't have to--in a sequence like ABCACDABCACDABCACD, each area of B may be larger or smaller than the previous one.

Then there's the question of how I spin that roving. I can pull a short tuft off the roving, and the strand I spin from it may all be virtually the same color. Or I can pull off a longer tuft, then split it lengthwise into 2 or more sections; in this case, I'll get shorter lengths of color, and the sequence of colors from that tuft will repeat 2 or more times before I go on to the next. Or I could split the entire roving multiple times before I even begin to spin, creating multiple repeats of one long color sequence. (There's a spinning project in progress with which I took that technique. I'll show you sometime. There are 2 finished skeins of yarn so far, each maybe 1 ounce, and probably 12 plastic bags with roving in various states of splitting, each with a label like "B4." I started it in May '98 with the idea of knitting a sweater for our first child. I can't imagine why it's not finished yet, can you?)

Anyway, my point is that there are a lot of ways for disorder--randomness--to enter the yarn as I spin it.

So I'm spinning along, making a bobbin of yarn that looks something like this,

and musing upon the word "aleatory" ("subject to unpredictable causes," more or less, from the Latin word for dice), and the next morning, when I come downstairs, I find that the dog has done this with the roving:

Add one more to the list of ways that disorder can enter handspun yarn. (If you'd like your yarn to be less predictable, Truffle can visit your house, too.)

My first thought as I surveyed the wreckage? "Oh, bother, now I have to learn how to Navajo-ply." Navajo plying lets you make a three-ply yarn from one continuous strand, and you have control over where the colors come together, so you can keep the colors distinct or blend them as you prefer. (There's a good illustration here.) Did you notice that word, "control"? This whole letting-go thing really doesn't come naturally for me.

But I figured that the already-not-very-bright colors of the roving were going to merge into mud if I didn't do something to separate them a bit, so I tried it. The results? Much more awkward and messy than you can see here

or here

or here

In fact, it looks kind of cool (as long as you keep your distance), and also when it's wound:

What's it going to be when it grows up? Altogether, the two skeins total maybe 225 yards, and it knits to about 5 to 5.5 sts per inch (on average) on US #6s. I figured that that gauge put me in good shape for some half-fingered gloves. This proved to be a serious miscalculation. But more on that next time.