Friday, 21 February 2014

Not So Fast, After All

I thought the Vite Cowl would be an ideal quick project for my impulse-bought Supa-Dupa extra chunky yarn, and to learn a few new techniques, starting with a provisional cast on. Cue a quick look at YouTube for instructions. (Thank goodness for YouTube and the crafters who take some time to record a technique and post it up for others to learn from, bless you all!)

The provisional cast on was easy to do, but was a bit confusing and difficult to get even, when using a lightweight waste yarn, on such large needles with such a bulky yarn, in a pattern which started straight in with yarn over increases and the like. It was also the first time I’ve used such big needles, so I struggled with tension for a few rows, then frogged it and restarted using a plain/English cast on.

20 rows in, I was not impressed. I didn’t really notice the left hand edge on the photos, but in this yarn on 15mm needles, the yarn overs (yos) resulted in big holes, so the leaves looked strange and there was a huge eyelet edge to no obvious purpose. The leaf shape also seemed a bit lost with the texture of the yarn, too. So I frogged it again.  I evidently needed to think about this.

I should have had a look at others' project notes to start with.  I had a browse through them, and my appreciation for their helpful notes and photos reminded me to add my own on Ravelry too.  Some photos showed the 'step' in the cast-on edge and first row or two, and the vaguely diagonal shape of the strip forming, as a result of the shaping, so I wasn't 'doing it wrong' at all. Some experimented with slipping a stitch at the selvedge to control rolling, but almost everyone decided that blocking was a good idea. Some of the photos showing recently-blocked work also show an edge with big eyelets like mine was, while in others it looks a lot more subtle, and nicer, so it must depend on the yarn used. I found a couple of modifications involving removing the left hand edge as a yarn saving measure, and it looked fine.  However, there was no detailed explanation or pattern rewriting in their notes, so I thought I had better experiment for myself, particularly as the yos start right on that edge, so without any selvedge stitches, what to do with the edge of the leaf?

There were a number of comments about the fiddly decreases (SSK  - slip, slip, knit and P2tog tbl - purl 2 together through the back loop). Someone commented that doing left-leaning decreases to create an apparently right-leaning leaf shape (on the right side) seemed counter-intuitive and several people said that they had changed the decreases to right-leaning K2tog - knit 2 together and P2tog - purl 2 together. Comments about doing half pattern repeats, the yarn overs being different to usual (er, how?) and getting lost because there are different stitch counts on the right/knit and wrong/purl side rows (there were?) left me feeling even more as if I had missed something and lacking in confidence.

I like to understand what I'm doing, rather than just following instructions. It was time to learn what the yo increases and various decreases were doing.

First I checked my methods - was I doing things like yarn over and SSK correctly? Yes, I was. (Amazing!)

I'm always looking for a hair band to keep my hair out of my eyes when doing my face, so a smaller scale strip of leaves would be ideal, and allow me to play with the pattern. I picked up a light green from my DK stash and a pair of 4mm dpns (more than long enough for a strip 18 stitches/2.5" wide).

I decided to leave off the 'eyelet' edge and just have two purl stitches on the RS (2 knit on the WS). The yarn is acrylic, so curls at the edge a bit, but the curl on the purl leaves quite a nice texture to the left hand edge.

I did a couple of leaves as per the pattern, just to look at the result of the SSK/P2tog tbl and what those left-leaning decreases were doing. Basically, the decreases move the edge of the leaf to the right. The SSK and corresponding P2 tog tbl create a raised, concave edge to the lower leaf.  It's subtle and pretty, but would probably be more visible and therefore work best with a smooth yarn. As the Supa Dupa has quite a texture of its own, a raised convex edge to the upper leaf would probably be more visible, so I switched the SSK/P2tog tbl to K2tog and P2tog. I reasoned that I was now outlining the leaf, so should move the decrease one stitch to the left and did a leaf that way. It was a bit weird and I liked the P2tog as a last stitch on the purl side at the end of a repeat, so I decided to stop over-thinking it at this stage, and just go with the changed decreases.
The decreases outlining the leaf shape match the increases made by the yarn overs in the leaf.  The differences in stitch count between sides of the fabric are due to two increases with only one decrease on the RS, then the other decrease on the WS. I found if I tightened my tension when doing a yarn over, the hole was a little neater.

Having stopped thinking so hard, and without having to fidget around to purl 2 through the back loops, the strip of knitting started to fly off the needles.

The picture shows a couple of leaves, the left one with the original left-leaning SSK decreases and the one with the right-leaning K2tog decreases on the right.

Having sorted that out, I was impatient to start the modified Vite cowl and decided to go with a provisional cast on after all, now that I know what the pattern is doing. I used the waste yarn doubled to create something more robust to start with and started knitting away.  I got through an entire ball (two pattern repeats) before I realised it was still too holey.  Despite the super-chunkiness, the 15mm needles are too big to give the balance of softness and shape, definition and drape that I was hoping for.  I did a little test swatch with 9mm needles - too rigid, even with a loose tension. I don't quite want my cowl to be able to stand up by itself.

So, it's been frogged AGAIN! I will have to go in search of 10mm and 12mm needles to fill the gap in my stash, to allow me to experiment to find the right gauge for this project.  Perhaps it will be fourth time lucky, but this quick project has proved to be not so vite, after all.

Sunday, 16 February 2014

Evenstar Fingerless Mittens - Finished!

The Evenstar fingerless mittens I started in December were finished before New Year and have been sitting, waiting to be photographed (waiting for a bright day, ha ha!)

They were originally meant for me, because my hands get so cold. I noted when I was working on them that wrestling with dpns and a cable needle was producing a tighter tension, even though the swatch tension was correct.

While I was knitting, I could picture these on a friend of mine, and they are in fact a bit too snug on my pudgy hands and wrists, so they were evidently meant to be for her.  I owe her a pay-it-forward giftie, and her birthday is later this month, so these are a combination present and pay-it-forward. Which is lovely, except I still have cold hands and a need for fingerless mittens, and I simply cannot bear to just buy a cheap mass-produced pair. (Even if I could find some to fit my fists.)

Not only that, but having knitted this pattern, I want to do something different. I think I would also go for some which are shorter in the arm.  Even though the yarn is only acrylic and a bit splitty, the blue glintiness is so pretty. These took just under 100g; the other half of the ball has since been used to start the Longshore blanket.  I've been drooling browsing in Ravelry, madly queueing up projects which catch my eye. It's not like I don't have a pile of stashed yarn to use and since a quick raid on the charity box at a local LYS, some additional needles to try to add some missing sizes to my needle stash!

More Leafy Loveliness

One of my 'local yarn stores' is in Cardigan market, and the lovely owner receives any needles and yarn given into the Ty Hafan charity shop, to sell on their behalf. I've picked up knitting needles there before, so I went armed with my list and a needle gauge to try to fill in some holes in my collection.  Trouble is, whenever I go, I end up adding to my stash and this time was no different.

Sitting in a half-price bin next to the counter were a couple of balls of King Cole Supa-Dupa extra chunky in a delicious moss green. It's shade 223, which I see they describe as 'sage' but it's a rich, dark, yellowy-green, nowhere near grey enough for 'sage' to be a good name for it. It's an enormous yarn, like a roving plied with a thread, 75% acrylic, 25% wool. The 200g balls only contain 52 metres, so its rrp of around £8 a ball is really quite expensive. I've since seen it online for even less, but the postage would more than make up for the price difference. It looks quite silky, but just stroking it brings up fuzzies, so I wonder how it will wash. I wasn't inspired by the patterns for it, but look at the colour and see leaves. Irresistible! Then, of course, I needed to buy a pair of 15mm needles to cope with such a huge yarn.

It's only a few weeks since I picked up the last couple of balls of a marbled greens/teal/purple chunky from the Narberth British Red Cross charity shop, because a leaf-patterned cowl came to mind when I saw them. (Okay, the teal and purple don't say 'leaves' to me so much as the green mix in the yarn, but I really like it, even though I don't normally go for purple.) It was called 'Jazz Tones Chunky' (shade 005), with no producer's name on it.  The ball band has a postcode on it: BD16 2NT, which is the James C Brett wholesale address in Bingley.  Interesting. The yarn looks very similar to the James C Brett Marble Chunky shade 28 same metreage, but at half the ball size (100g instead of 200g) and half the price.

I've also been making a few roses with my DK stash and plotting a 'rose garden' scarf (or something) with stems and leaves on the main section, then the roses towards the ends. It ground to a halt because I wanted a dark green yarn and couldn't find one unless I ordered online (which would be made disproportionately expensive due to postage costs).

All of this has led to much queueing of Ravelry projects (mainly for comparison). Reading the patterns, it looks like I'll need to learn a selection of techniques which I currently don't know, including various ways of visibly and invisibly increasing and decreasing, sorting out the difference between yarn over and yarn round needle, doing provisional/crochet cast-on, three-needle cast-off, and Kitchener grafting.

I went out with my friend J yesterday, and we started in a shop where I immediately spotted a dark green to add to my multicolour DK stash.  We went to another store to look in the crafts section and I went into my 'kid in a sweet shop' mode. 'YOU', said J, as I squeed and oohed over blingy things and babbled on about my various projects, 'need to FOCUS!'

She is right, as always.  I should be concentrating on creating a stock of things to sell.  I should be making myself some fingerless mitts, but need to work some of this leafy loveliness out of my system. So my treat for tonight is to make a start on the Vite Cowl at the top of my Ravelry queue, using the mossy hyper-chunky  yarn. First, though, I have to do some chores.  Oh well, at least the washing up will warm up my hands!

The Sock Eater Strikes Again

Somewhere, in a parallel universe, along with biros, pencils and important bits of paper which you could have sworn you kept, there are herds of odd socks.

I was glancing through an article on de-cluttering recently (skim-reading as usual, so I've no idea where in the interwebs it was,) which posed the question: Do you throw away odd socks?  The article was about de-cluttering, so the expected, correct answer would have been: Yes.

As I browsed on, the question stuck in my mind.  I have quite a pile of odd socks.  They drive me mad.  I live alone in a small (admittedly untidy) cottage, so where do the other socks go?  I know they get caught in the sleeves of sweatshirts, in pillowcases and duvet covers, and occasionally knocked under the bed by one of the cats in playful mood. They stick to the drum of the washing machine and lurk there, waiting to join the next load. I've found a couple which were making a break for freedom down the back of the washing machine. I opened my dance workshops kit bag ready to go away to JWAAD Fantasia last December and found a lonely sock in the bottom of it.  I was sure I had emptied the bag, but must have dropped one sock as I hauled the rest of it off to the laundry hamper.

I was doing laundry for a friend who was in hospital a couple of months ago, and found she had an even worse problem with odd socks than I did.  While sorting through her socks, I found that some were designed as complementary pairs; a pair of white socks, but one would have a blue heel and pink toe, the other a pink heel and blue toe. I'm not sure I would be able to cope, although I do like subtle jokes. I saw a pair of navy blue socks with a picture of a red light on the left ankle and a green one on the right years ago; I should have bought them. Anyway, I'm quite happy for others to do as they please, but I like my socks in matching pairs.

I know a few people who really don't care about matching socks and just take the first two which come to hand. They could be making a fashion statement (anything I wear is cool), a lifestyle choice (because they really can not be bothered to pair up their socks), or are so busy (e.g. being laundry maid and everything else to husband and young children) that any clean socks in the drawer when they need them is a win.

Should I just throw odd ones away?  The thought of just tossing them out and adding to the landfill makes me shudder. What a waste, when, if their pair really has been taken by the sock eater,  they could be made into sock puppets, draft excluders, cat toys, toy stuffing, used as dusters or decorating rags .... I have a pile of old, threadbare socks somewhere, waiting for a second life.

I've just taken some dry socks down off the laundry airer and there were nine pairs, no odd socks. Maybe I have a second pile of odd socks somewhere, which contain the pairs to those in the first pile. Or maybe I have a sock eater living in the cottage somewhere, ready to strike again.

Saturday, 15 February 2014

Autumn Leaves 'Thing' - Finished!

At long last, I've finished 'The Autumn Leaves Thing', which is now a sort of scarf or stole.  The leaves were blocked, but started to curl again, and it turned out that sewing them together added a sort of 3D effect which made it difficult to pick out the leaf shapes and left it looking like some knitted patchwork, which is exactly what it is. I had the idea from a patchwork I saw in a magazine, years ago. However, what works in woven cotton fabric is just not the same in knit and I would not do this again, nor would I recommend it.  Just don't go there!

At least it's quite warm and snuggly. I've hand-washed it, to see whether the colours are fast (not quite) and to reduce the itchy tickliness of the mohair. Greebo loves it - if I happen to leave it around anywhere, I come back to find him lying on it.

So happy to have finished it, I wrapped it around me and took a (very rare!) selfie!


In my mind's eye, I have a picture, as if it's a memory or a dream.  I'm in a boat (I think, or I might be swimming), looking over a sea of blues and greens towards a beach and dunes, under a blue sky with a few clouds. It's a calm, warm, summery picture which is completely different to the currently awful weather.  I want to look at the view, lie on or snuggle under it, so for a little while now, I have been planning how to create that picture as a crochet blanket.
sketch of the longshore picture and crochet wave symbols

At first, I thought about knitting it, using a drop stitch pattern to create waves. I did a test swatch, but decided I didn't like the single strands of yarn created by the dropped stitches.

I wondered about a crocheted wave pattern, and realised that I didn't know how to do the various lengths/heights of crochet stitch, so I would need to learn those first.

I found a book listing them and did a little sample using the various stitches.  Easy enough.  I took some of my double knitting (dk) stash and did a little bookmark, stepping up through the stitches on each row; slip stitch (ss), double crochet (dc), half treble (htr/htc), treble (tr/tc), double treble (dtr/dtc), triple treble (ttr/ttc). (These are UK terms - I noted that they have different names in the USA, but I decided I could only handle one set of names at a time! Thanks to YarnOverChicago blog for her helpful table!)

I rather liked the resulting texture, so I did a quick sample of a wave pattern.  I found it difficult to keep track of which stitch to put on top of which to keep a regular pattern.  It was going to be a big project (double bed size, roughly five foot wide by six long, I think) and I could do without the stress. I happened across a tutorial on free-form waves from The Wench's Crafty Corner blog (thank you!), and decided that would be the way to go.

The first couple of rows were in dc and htr, to create a solid base to work from.  Then I started on rows, loosely following a sort of long wave pattern: 3 dc, 2 htr, 2 tr, 2 dtr, 3 ttr, 2 dtr, 2 tr, 2 htr, 3 dc. If I lose track and start drifting from the pattern by adding an extra double treble or triple treble, it's not a problem.  It's probably why I thought of the name Longshore.

I find myself fretting over whether the work is growing at an even rate, and change the stitch pattern if I think I need to even things up.

I was feeling like the only person on earth who hadn't seen Game of Thrones, so I've been working on Longshore while catching up on seasons 1 and 2, borrowed from next door.  I'm on my third colour, and have done about a foot so far.  It's quite relaxing, although I can't work without looking at it.  (So I might have to watch GoT again as I've probably missed something significant to the story line!) I find myself stroking it flat, looking at the rippling texture and musing on how different makes of double knitting yarn are all slightly different thicknesses, as I drift back and forth across the greeny-blue sea.

Friday, 14 February 2014

Good Game

From my cat Xena's point of view, anyway!  I fell for the 'cuddle and snooze' game again today.

The Set-Up
Try to catch your person after she is up and has done the important stuff, like filling the cat bowls and letting the chickens out, but before she has had her coffee.

If she comes to sit on the bed, for example to put extra thick socks on, you are in luck.  Otherwise attract her attention as she passes the bedroom door with a soft 'meep' followed by a cute, inviting look as you sit or lie snuggled on the bed.

The Game
1  Start purring and butt at her hand for a stroke. Carry on purring (and butting at the hand) as the stroking and tickling under the chin increases.

2  Start to pad up and down, purring more loudly to elicit strokes all over.

3  Raise a paw in the classic 'give me a cuddle' pose and purr even more loudly when picked up into her arms.

4  Start to press and knead at her chest, butting head to head.  Delicate but strategic use of claws may be called for (especially if she tries to put you back onto the bed), but not too rough and try not to drool as she topples back onto the bed. Don't stop purring.

5  Allow her to adjust to a more comfortable position, then either lie on her chest if she's on her back, or more likely, if she's lying on her side, in a purring puddle in the warm space between chest and arms. Carry on purring softly and eliciting a few strokes.

6  You can stop purring once you're sure she's asleep.  You've won!

7  When she wakes up some time later, you can try for a repeat game. Give her a wide-eyed 'you fell asleep!' look and start again from step 1 to 5 above, depending on whether she is still lying down. Success has been known, especially if you can persuade your brother (or any other cat or even another small cuddly companion animal) to come and lie snugly curled up and purring/snoring on the bed too!

If this fails, you can try purring meaningfully at your person as she microwaves her mug of cold coffee and goes to sit at her machine.  A plaintive 'meow' and sinuous rub against legs (hers, the desk, chair, whatever you've got) may get her up again and you can lead her back towards the bedroom.  Once she has started to drink her coffee and read emails, it is probably too late. On no account jump up onto the desk to sit on the keyboard as she will get cross, you may get coffee on your coat, and a repeat cuddle and snooze will be out of the question.

This works best on dark, cold mornings, when the weather is vile and all sensible cats and owners just want to be back in bed.

Cat owners, if you didn't know about this already, be warned!  On no account let your cat read this post, in case they get ideas.