March 23, 2007

Sweater Update

After wearing my handmade sweater for the second time yesterday, I decided it wasn't quite done. I just didn't like the way it was hanging on me so, when I got home, I took off the sweater, picked up the stitches around the neckline on a circular needle and knit a few rows of ribbing, as the pattern indicated. I hadn't done the neck originally for two reasons: I was intimidated at the thought of picking up neck stitches and I was afraid that the neck opening was already too small. And I will admit that it took quite a bit of trial and error to figure out how to pick up the neck stitches because the instructions in The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits just aren't very good. When I was re-learning how to knit in the fall of 2002, however, it was about all that was available in the genre of books geared toward knitters under sixty.

In addition to adding the neck edging, I decided to block the sweater again, because it was looking a bit lumpy. I had blocked the pieces before sewing them together, but I hadn't blocked the whole sweater. This time, I used the blocking directions in Stitch N' Bitch, which I got from the library the other day. Debbie Stoller recommends soaking the sweater in soapy lukewarm water, rinsing it, rolling it in a towel, and laying it out flat in the shape I want it. It isn't dry yet, but it is already looking better. I can't believe I had never really looked at Stitch N' Bitch before. I own the sequel, which has a lot of fun patterns, but the original is a fantastic reference with super-clear directions for just about every technique I will ever need. Too bad it didn't come out until 2003!

Posted by eklanche at 07:48 AM | Comments (0)

March 16, 2007

My First Sweater

Today I am wearing my very first hand-knit sweater -- I finished it around ten last night! Although I have been knitting on and off since the age of eight and nonstop for just over a year now, I have so far avoided knitting sweaters for several reasons. First, I was sure that it would take too long. A sweater seemed like a project I would start one winter and finish the next winter...or the winter after that. Second, I couldn't imagining knitting a sweater that would actually fit me. All the other hand-knit sweaters I had ever worn were always tight in the neck and armpits and they were always rather scratchy, but that was, of course, because they hadn't been knit to fit me. Third, sweaters can be very expensive projects because they just use so much yarn. I didn't imagine I could knit one for less than $100 and, really, what is the point when I could buy at least four sweaters for the same price and probably have them look better? And, fourth, sweaters require all of the knitting techniques that intimidate me, along with the ones that I just find tedious, such as swatching and weaving in ends.

I think it was the knitting podcasts that inspired me. I would hear all these other people talk about sweaters they had knitted and think that if they could do it, maybe I could too. I also simply wanted to make something from one of the many knitting books on my shelf. I have some books from which I have made nearly every pattern, such as Joelle Hoverson's Last-Minute Knitted Gifts, and other books I have owned for years without making anything from them, such as The Yarn Girls' Guide to Simple Knits. Inspired by the blog 101 Cookbooks, I decided to finally use the patterns in the books I already own rather than continuing to amass new books.

So I chose the Yarn Girls' "Bare that Belly" v-neck sweater. In the book it is shown in orange, but I made it in hot-pink Sierra from Knit Picks. It was on sale for $3 a skein and I bought eight but only used six, so the sweater cost me $18 to make (shipping was free). One sweater problem solved. I solved the problem of a sweater being a big, long project by using a bulky yarn that knit 3.5 stitches to the inch on size 10 needles. Actually, all of the Yarn Girls' patterns are written for bulky yarns, so they are designed to knit quickly. I solved the fit problem by measuring a sweater I own that fits me and knitting to the same measurements. I didn't get it quite right -- the sleeves came out about two inches short -- but too-short sleeves are a novel problem for me, given that I usually find sweater sleeves to be too long.

With three of my four sweater-knitting obstacles out of the way, I decided to tackle the fourth (intimidating knitting techniques) head-on by just doing the techniques I was intimidated by. Granted, I could have avoided most of these by knitting a seamless sweater in the round (and that is probably what I will do for the next sweater), but I really wanted to use one of the Yarn Girls' patterns, all of which involve seaming, blocking, set-in sleeves, and picking up stitches. In the end, I found most of these techniques far less difficult than I feared. Knitting the four pieces (front, back, and two sleeves) was, as I expected, the easiest part. Blocking was also easy, now that I know how to do it. Seaming the sweater together actually turned out to be pretty interesting once I realized that it is more a process of weaving stitches together than it is sewing. Setting in the sleeves was definitely the hardest part, and they don't look perfect, but it got done. In the end, I avoided picking up stitches around the V-neck by deciding that it looked fine as it was. I was also nervous about making the neck opening any smaller than it already was. I may go back and do it later, but for now, the sweater is done.

And did I mention that the whole project took me less than a week? I think I have finally become a Knitter. Now, if only I had a digital camera so I could post photos of it...

Posted by eklanche at 07:35 AM | Comments (3)

March 09, 2007

Learning to Block

As I mentioned in my previous knitting post, there are some knitting techniques that just intimidate me to no end. Most of these don't relate to the actual knitting (I've got knit and purl and their various variations down pretty well), but rather to the finishing: seaming, sewing on extra stuff, and blocking. Over this past week, I have begun to face my fear of blocking.

For non-knitting readers, blocking is what you do to a piece after it is knitted to make the knitting lie flat and to coax the piece into its proper shape. But how this was done seemed very mysterious to me. Early on, I thought that you were supposed to iron the piece, and that terrified me. To begin with, I don't iron (despite having asked for an iron for my twenty-fourth birthday). Second, the thought of pressing a hot iron to a piece of fabric I had spent hours creating out of two sticks and a string was just too much. But as I read more about blocking, I learned that one should actually not iron knitted items, at least not without placing a wet towel between the item and the iron. So how do you block? Well, different sources gave vastly different directions. Some said to soak the piece in soapy water and then pin it out, while others said to pin it and then steam it with an iron. Another suggested pinning it into shape and then spraying it with a spray bottle. But pin it to what, I wondered? And where does one find rust-resistant pins?

For my entire knitting career, I have dealt with my fear and ignorance of blocking by only knitting items that didn't need to be blocked: hats, mittens, legwarmers, socks, felted bags, ribbed scarves, and anything in garter stitch. Last weekend, however, I found myself almost finished with a project that desperately needed to be blocked. I had been wanting to make flora from Knitty for about a year, and I had just enough of a gorgeous red/pink/green yarn, so I cast on. The part that goes around the neck is knit in stockinette, but with a border of moss stitch that I thought would make the piece lie flat. Between the stockinette and moss is a lovely row of eyelets. When I finished that part I realized that the moss border did not make the stockinette lie flat and the eyelets were not quite open enough to look like eyelets. I would have to block it.

The pattern said to "steam block," so that is what I tried first. I folded up a large towel, pinned the piece to the towel (I have no idea whether or not my pins are rust-resistant -- I just used what I had on hand), filled the iron with water, and plugged it in. When the iron started steaming, I held it above the neckwarmer and bathed it in steam. At this point, I ran into two problems: one, my iron drips water and I couldn't figure out how to make it stop; two, having not used the iron in a very long time, it was also scattering fine particles of I-don't-know-what on my knitted piece. All the instructions said to leave the piece pinned until it was dry, so I did just that and tried not to worry about it. When it did dry, it didn't look any the worse for having hot water dripped on it, and the fine particles brushed right off (for the most part), but the piece still wasn't quite flat and the eyelets were still somewhat closed.

For blocking attempt number two, I pinned much more aggressively, pulling the eyelets open and using every pin I had. I went to Downtown Home and Garden and purchased a spray bottle. When I asked the salesman where I could find a small spray bottle, he asked if it was for watering plants. I said no, it was for knitting, and a saleswoman who is also an avid knitter perked right up and said, "oh, for blocking." I was quite relieved -- this must mean I was on the right track! I brought the spray bottle home, filled it with water, and sprayed away. I let it dry for two days and unpinned it last night. And guess what -- it worked!

Posted by eklanche at 07:39 AM | Comments (2)

March 01, 2007

A Knitting Weekend

I spent most of last weekend sitting on the couch, knitting, and watching Trading Spaces. It was fun to watch a show about creativity and design while doing something creative. By the end of the weekend I had made (for myself!) a pair of "Hurry Up Spring Armwarmers" from Stitch 'n Bitch Nation. I wish I had a digital camera so I could post a picture because they are absolutely gorgeous. I used two strands of Knit Picks Memories yarn in the "Geranium" colorway. The armwarmers are ribbed on the bottom and have a cable pattern on the top that looks like vines with budding leaves (hence the name).

I had knit a couple of other pairs of armwarmers before, one for my sister Sophie and one for my friend Elizabeth, but I had used a different pattern: the one from Last-Minute Knitted Gifts. As a fairly cautious knitter, there are a few techniques I avoid whenever possible: any kind of seaming, anything that requires attaching new yarn, and picking up stitches. For this reason, the Last-Minute Knitted Gifts pattern was less intimidating because it just has a hole for the thumb, as opposed to the Stitch 'n Bitch Nation pattern, which has you create a thumb gusset, put the stitches on holders, and then come back to it, attaching new yarn to knit about an inch of thumb, as you would for a real glove or mitten. But after making two pairs of thumbless armwarmers and a pair of real mittens, I decided I was ready.

I probably should have been intimidated by the cable pattern, but I wasn't. I had knitted cables as a child and learned that, as long as you follow the directions and don't overthink it, cables are actually pretty easy. I didn't actually do anything with the cables I knit in my youth, mind you; I would just knit one pattern for a while, bind off, and knit another. Somewhere in a Los Angeles landfill there is probably a plastic shopping bag just full of little cabled acrylic rectangles. In any case, on Saturday morning, I bravely cast on and began knitting the cable pattern. There was, however, a major difference between this cable pattern and the ones I had knit as a kid: the instructions in Stitch 'n Bitch Nation were given in chart form, whereas I had previously only followed verbal instructions. Since words are read from left to right (in English, at any rate), that was how I read the chart. Several rows in, it began to bother me that the chart line numbers were presented at the right end of each row -- at the end of the row rather than the beginning -- which made it hard for me to keep track of which row I was on. After grumbling about that for a few rows, it hit me: I should have been reading the chart from right to left, since I knit from right to left! In general, I am not a perfectionist knitter, and when I find I have made a mistake I usually try to turn it into a "design element" rather than ripping back. So I scoured the pattern to see if doing it in reverse would make a difference, and was relieved to find that the chart was for the right armwarmer; the instructions said to reverse the chart for the left armwarmer. So I was just making the left armwarmer instead of the right. No problem. I kept going, but it still didn't look quite like the photograph in the book.

On Saturday night, I took a break from knitting to have dinner and play Trivial Pursuit at Shawn and Dave's. Somehow, getting away from the knitting for a while gave me a revelation: I hadn't quite been reversing the chart. Yes, I was reading it from left to right instead of right to left, but there were some parts of the chart where you read two boxes together, and I hadn't been reversing those boxes. In effect, every time the cable needle came into play, I had held it to the back when I should have held it to the front (and vice versa) and I had purled off of it when I should have knit off of it (and vice versa). I returned home sure that I would spend the rest of the evening frogging my day's work, but when I looked at the chart again, I got a new glimmer of hope. So I kept going, finishing the "left" armwarmer on Sunday morning. But it really didn't look right.

Hoping against hope, I cast on the right armwarmer around noon on Sunday and knit it reading the chart from right to left. It came out totally different from the "left". In other words, it actually looked like the picture! So when I finished it, I grit my teeth and frogged the left one. The second time around, I reversed everything in the chart and, miracle of miracles, it came out the perfect mirror opposite of the right armwarmer. Determined to have them finished in time to wear to work on Monday, I stubbornly kept myself glued to the couch until about eight-thirty, when I bound off the left armwarmer, reattached the yarn for the thumb, and quickly finished it.

Compared to the confusion about the cable pattern, reattaching the yarn for the thumb was nothing!

Posted by eklanche at 07:25 AM | Comments (1)

February 13, 2007

Knitting Fiasco

Two weekends ago I started a new pair of socks with the technique I had been dying to try: two-at-a-time, toe-up, on two circular needles. I used Judy's Magic Cast-on, which really is magic. After doing it twice, I had the hang of it and my socks were begun. The problem, however, was finding the right needles. I wanted two 16-inch size 1 circular needles, and I wanted them to be different from one another, so that I could tell which was which. I first went to Flying Sheep, whose needle supply was sorely depleted. There was only one 16-inch size 1 circular needle in the whole store, and it was a $13 Addi Turbo. Not quite ready for such a major investment, I moved on to Busy Hands, where I found my two needles: one plastic and one wood. In my previous knitting experience, wooden needles had always been superior to plastic, so I wasn't prepared for what happened. Reader, the wooden needle simply sucked, and I don't use that word lightly. I just couldn't get the stitches over the join, and I spent more time wrestling with it than I actually did knitting. In comparison, the plastic needle was like butter. I started the socks on Friday night two weeks ago and, by last Wednesday, I was totally fed up. On Thursday I went back to Flying Sheep and plunked down $13 for the Addi Turbo, and it turned out that I had given up on the wooden needle just in time: as I transferred the stitches from that needle to the Addi Turbo, the wooden needle snapped, which it would have done on the next row I tried to knit anyway. After much cursing, I got the stitches onto the new needle and breathed a sigh of relief. The Addi Turbo knits like a dream. Definitely worth $13. Perhaps I'll get another one for my next pair of socks so I can knit on two Addi Turbos! But then how will I know which needle is which?

Posted by eklanche at 07:39 AM | Comments (2)

February 02, 2007

Cozy

You may have thought I was joking when I posted last week about making a cell phone cozy, but let me assure you that I wasn't. After all, what good is having the latest (okay, I'll admit, for most people a cell phone isn't the latest technology, but keep in mind that I didn't have one at all until a week ago, and I still don't have an i-pod, digital camera, etc.) technology if you can't make fun accessories for it?

I checked out a few different patterns for cell phone cozies and, not terribly enamored of any of them, I decided to just wing it. Using some pretty purple silk yarn left over from some Mother's Day presents I made last year, I cast on twenty stitches and knit a rectangle in 2x2 rib. Then I cast on another forty and joined for working in the round. Mind you, I was using two strands of very fine yarn on size 2 dpns. I continued in the 2x2 rib until the tube was the length of my cell phone, and then closed the bottom with a three-needle bind-off. All I have left to do is sew some snaps on to the flap to keep it closed. But of course I have put off that final step because I have never sewed snaps onto one of my knitted creations and I'm terribly nervous about it. For now, I'm using it without the snaps and just tucking in the flap.

The cell phone cozy is the first thing I have knit for myself in about a year, since the now-infamous Buckeye Hat. Knitting for myself is really difficult for a couple of different reasons. First, it is such an expensive hobby, and the way I justify spending money on yarn is by telling myself that it is a gift for someone else. Second, I'm such a perfectionist that I don't want to keep the first (fill in the blank) I make. I want to make one for you first to work out the kinks, and then make one for myself when I've perfected the technique. I know this is terribly selfish, and that I should be doing it the other way around: practicing on my own (fill in the blank) before I make one to give you, but I'm honestly not that altruistic. In any case, I usually get bored of whatever I'm making or run out of yarn before I get a chance to make one of whatever it is for myself. Even with the cell phone cozy, when I thought of improvements I could make to my improptu pattern, I wanted to give away the one I was making and make a better one for myself. But ultimately I just wanted a cell phone cozy, even it isn't quite perfect.

And, yes, I am taking orders if you want one too!

Posted by eklanche at 07:30 AM | Comments (2)

January 16, 2007

Totally Tubular

In the course of making a gift for a friend (yes, I'm being a bit cryptic here because I don't want to spoil the surprise), I learned (from an online tutorial) how to knit two tubes at the same time on two circular needles.

As is probably obvious even to non-knitters, circular needles were invented for knitting tubes: you just go around and around and there it is. The catch, however, is that the circumference of the tube must be at least as large as the length of the needle, and the shortest circs I have ever seen are nine inches. Nine inches is still too large for socks, mittens, and the project I made over the weekend. In situations like this, knitters usually resort to double-pointed needles (dpns). Even on a hat, the bulk of which can be knit on a circ, it is necessary to switch to dpns to decrease at the top of the head because the circumference gets too small for circs. Double-pointed needles work very well, as long as you don't accidentally pull one out of the stitches thinking that it is the working needle. They are also much slower than a circular needle because you are constantly switching from one to the next. There is also the issue of the dreaded ladder.

The cool thing about circular needles is that they are flexible, so you can put half the stitches for the tube on one circ and the other half on the other circ, and the flexibility of the needle accommodates the curve of the tube. You simply knit the stitches from one needle onto the other side of the same needle. With two circs, there are only two joins, rather than the three or four you have with dpns, and the flexibility of the needles helps to prevent ladders. On two circs, because you are simply going across each side, rather than around and around, you can knit two (or more) tubes at once, simply by casting them on one after the other from two separate balls of yarn. You then knit the first side of the first tube, switch yarns, knit the first side of the second tube, switch needles, knit the second side of the second tube, switch yarns, and knit the second side of the first tube. In theory, it is all very logical, but in practice, my yarn kept getting tangled. The benefit, however, is that you avoid "second sock syndrome" -- both are done at the same time.

It was fun to learn a new technique, but I felt a bit silly sitting in a giant chair at Sweetwaters (free wireless) knitting with my computer balanced on my lap!

Posted by eklanche at 07:58 AM | Comments (0)

January 11, 2007

Sock Number Two

Last night I finished the second of Mike's socks. For the most part, they are beautiful. I wish I had a digital camera so that I could post a picture, but they are various shades of blue in thick stripes. I don't know if I'll be able to wait until his birthday on March 18 to give them to him!

There are, however, a couple of problems. Sock Number One was, for the most part, a lovely sock. As I posted before, however, I accidentally did the toe decreases along the top and bottom of the sock, rather than along the sides. On Sock Number Two, I stuck to four double-pointed needles instead of five and managed to get the toe decreases in the right place. The problem with this sock, however, was that, in order to be extra-careful about getting the toe decreases in the right place, I refrained from doing my handy trick to eliminate ladders. What are ladders? Well, when you knit a tube on double-pointed needles, it is very hard to avoid getting a slight gap where the needles join up. On one round, it isn't noticeable, but when you have that little gap on round after round after round, it produces a row of little gaps, known as a ladder. In general, I avoid ladders by moving the needle break every row. For example, when I knit all the stitches on one dpn, I knit a few more from the next needle without changing my working needle. This trick does a fantastic job of eliminating ladders, and using five dpns instead of four also helps because it reduces the angle at which the needles join (they form a square rather than a triangle).

This trick, however, is what got me into trouble on Sock Number One. The pattern told me that, for the foot, I should use four dpns -- one to work with, one to hold the stitches for the top of the foot, and two to hold the stitches for the sole of the foot. But I said, "forget that -- I'll use five dpns, and split the stitches for the top of the foot up onto two separate needles." I used a stitch marker to keep track of the beginning of the round, conveniently located at the middle of the heel. My ladder-prevention trick also helps keep the stitch marker in place because I never finish a needle at the end of a round. Anyway, when I got to the toe decreases, had I been working with four dpns instead of five, it would have been obvious where the decreases go: at the end of the first needle, beginning and end of the second, and beginning of the third. It is also obvious which needle is which because needle two has twice as many stitches as the other two needles. On five dpns, the decreases go at the end of the first and third needles and the beginning of the second and fourth needles, all of which have the same number of stitches. So far so good. But at that point, my stitch marker slipped off and I lost track of which needle was which! It should have been pretty easy to tell which needle was which, given that needle one starts in the middle of the heel, but I guess I'm just not coordinated enough to tell where the middle of the heel IS!

So Sock Number One has the toes in the wrong place and Sock Number Two has the toes in the right place, but also has ladders. The other problem I ran into with Sock Number Two is that, when I picked up the stitches around the heel, I got some gaps on one side. I managed to avoid them on the other side by knitting into the back of the picked-up stitch and thereby twisting it, but when I got to the next side, I think I picked up the stitches twisted, so when I knit into the back it untwisted them!

I realize that this post probably makes less than zero sense to nonknitters, but suffice it to say that I still have a lot to learn about sock knitting!

Posted by eklanche at 09:17 AM | Comments (0)

January 07, 2007

Socknitting

Yesterday I finished sock number one of a pair I am making for David's brother Mike's birthday. I had made one pair of socks several years ago, and then went on a knitting hiatus until about a year ago, and this was my first sock attempt since my return to knitting. I used a beautiful sock yarn from last week's field trip to Lansing, and the sock pattern from The Knitter's Handy Book of Patterns. Everything seemed to be going along fine -- except that I somehow ended up picking up eighteen stitches along the heel flaps, rather than the expected fifteen. But I decreased back down to my original number of stitches for the foot, and then decreased again for the toe. It wasn't until after I had successfully grafted it shut with the dreaded Kitchener stitch (named after Lord Kitchener, head of the British War Department in the Boer Woar, who encouraged British women to knit socks for the troops), that I realized I had made the toe decreases along the top and bottom of the foot rather than along the sides! The sock looks fine in two dimensions, but I think this error will make for a rather bunchy toe. At first, I wasn't quite sure how it happened, because I kept careful track of which needles I was using for the decreases. Or so I thought. But I had done one thing differently than the pattern recommended. Instead of working the foot on four double-pointed needles -- two for the sole, one for the top of the foot, and one working needle -- I used five dpns -- two for the sole, two for the top of the foot, and one working needle. With four needles, all with the same number of stitches, I must have somehow got one needle off center when I began working my toe decreases. So then the big question is, do I make the same mistake intentionally on the second sock so that they match, or do I try to do it right? Given that I'm knitting for a man who knows nothing about needlework and probably wouldn't notice if the two socks were slightly different, I think I'll try to do it right, just for the practice. After this sock, however, I think I'm going to swear off dpns and start knitting socks on two circular needles instead. Ideally, I would like to learn how to knit two socks at the same time, because the discipline it takes to turn around and make a second identical sock after finishing the first does not come easily to me.

Posted by eklanche at 07:37 AM | Comments (2)