Tuesday, May 27, 2014

Mark It

    Our Ravelry Knitaway Group spring KAL for the Bird's Nest Shawl from Folk Shawls is moving along beautifully.  The knitters have chosen some fabulous yarns for this one.   I believe I am the slowest  knitter among them though I realize that part of it is I am so easily distracted. Perpetual spring fever, I call it.

      When knitting lace however, getting distracted can be a real problem.  Lace is particularly unforgiving in terms of stitch count.  Do not think that you can just "fudge" at the end of the row and have the pattern work out on the next pattern row.   Believe me..I've tried.  Especially on long rows of lace, keeping track is easier if the row is broken up into repeats.  Use markers to do this.  You see I have two different markers in the shawl above; the first marker indicates both the beginning of the lace pattern and the beginning of a right-side row.  I use a fancy marker for that prime spot because it is really annoying to work a right-side row on the wrong-side and vice versa.  The string markers are placed every so many repeats of the lace so that I know if the lace pattern hasn't worked out when I knit to each marker, my error is between the markers, with just a few stitches involved.  This ends the agony of realizing you have knit 344 stitches and gotten off on your pattern back about stitch 99.  Without markers between the repeats, that happens way too often and makes lace knitting rather miserable for many.  Use a marker every repeat or every two or every five, your choice.  It's a tool to make your knitting pleasant for you.  As I am fond of saying to my students, a marker is your friend.

      I know.....some of us are soooo good at knitting that we don't need no stinking markers.  Right.  And some of us are so good at ripping that we look for reasons to do more of it.  I use markers.  And I seem to have quite a collection of them.  Below are some of my favorite fancy markers, shiny and bright, like jewelry for my knitting. I usually reserve these for a special place like the beginning of a round or a seam line.  For me, too many beads makes my knitting too heavy and adds to fatigue in those long hours of design knitting.  I am even more picky.  Fancy markers have to be functional and not just pretty to stay in my knitting bag.  More than one fabulous looking marker with a snaggy join or sloppy, weak ring has ended up recycled into my bead box and I shop very carefully for them now with functionality in mind.  Below are some of my go to favorites.  Though I sadly have not kept track of the makers of each of these handmade beauties, I psychically send them my gratitude each time I slip one of their creations onto my needle.
    And then there are my favorite plain markers, the totally functional, not so pretty but essential tools in the knitter's tool kit. These markers help you count, but they also hold a dropped stitch, or mark a special shaping row, and some can be moved when needed.  They are inexpensive, lightweight, and if you lose one you don't cry (unless, of course, you've also then lost your place in your knitting.  Rats!).
     What do I use the most?  The home made string marker with a long tail is my favorite of all.  I make sure that I always have some string available in my knitting bag to make markers or stitch holders.  The long tail is especially functional in keeping the marker in place when, as so often happens in lace knitting, a yarn over wants to go hopping on over to the next repeat.  I just give the marker's tail a tug and it zips back into place, neatly corralling the yarn over.  Also string markers do not tend to jump out of the knitting like solid plastic or medal rings do.  That's what I like about the rubber "O" ring markers (far right) too, they do not "fly".  Safety pins (coilless please), and safety pin-like markers can be moved and clip in and out of your knitting as needed, as do the old standby "chicken ring" split ring markers.  All handy tools.
     I am a basic organizer nerd and I use the very common variety of plastic divided carrier to hold my markers, functional and sturdy.  I think these were originally created to carry fly fishing flies.  Mine is always in the main knitting tool kit, within easy reach of the knitting nest. 

  And though these plastic organizers now come in tempting bright colors with glitter (oh my!),  I like to be able to see what's in my carrier, so it's basic translucent white for me.  Except of course when I find a tin I cannot resist.  I use my "Smoochers" tin in my travel supply bag.  It is not organized but it's compact, holds what I need when traveling, and makes me (and other knitters) smile.  And yes, I bought the candy just for the tin.  Ever done that?
   So what markers do you have in your bag of knitting tricks and why?  I'd love to know.  You may have something I need to add to my collection.  And please join us in the Knitaway group spring KAL on Ravelry.  We're having some fun.

Monday, May 19, 2014

Going Back to Rio

     I am on a serious studio clearing and sorting binge.  Spring does that to me. This week I found pieces of a  yummy hand dyed cherry-red sweater in my "to finish" basket.  I have the back done and the front is still on the needles with a note pinned to it to "get more yarn from Rachel".  Sleeves still to go so I will need about another 50% of what I've already used ( as a rough estimate I usually figure that the body uses 2/3 of the total amount of yarn in a sweater and the sleeves use 1/3). 

 This is Rio, one of the pieces I was asked to design years ago for Handpaint Country to feature the gorgeous hand-dyed yarns of Rachel Brown,  who was a world class fiber artist/dyer.   To showcase the yarn, Rio is a simple mistake-stitch ribbing pullover, one of those "wear it all the time" sweaters.  And in keeping with the theme of last week's blog, I intend to finish it as part of my fall wardrobe of hand knit "daily wear".  Plus it's nice nice knitting, the kind I can do in the garden after dinner.

    The yarn is a single worsted weight. I believe that Rachel used Brown Sheep's Top of the Lamb as the base for her "tweed" dye magic.  In a mistake stitch ribbing, the single yarn does not pill and it lends the sweater a sweet hand spun look as well.  In fact a hand spun yarn would  also be wonderful in this project, too.  So there's another possibility.  Always more inspiration and projects on the horizon.  It is a never ending list of knitting "what ifs" in my mind.
    I have a large stash of Rachel's yarns from her store, collected over the years on my many trips to  Taos.  There are boxes of her boucle and mohair and tweed, treasures that make a knitter's mouth water.  I loved using the many different textures of yarn that Rachel dyed for the Ruana that was the cover shot for Handpaint Country. 
     Rachel's granddaughter, Teresa Lovelace, is carrying on the tradition in her own way now,  returning to the roots of Rachel's dream and creating gorgeous traditional yarns for weavers.

     So I'm going back to Rio.   I can tell you now that you can expect to see some spin offs of this design as well.  Rekindling  happens.
     What have you got in your knitting basket that could be on your back by fall?  I'd love to know.     I think we can all use encouragement to finish or at least revisit some of our WIPs and summer is a great time to  clear the fall decks.   What say?  Can you find one thing to finish this summer?  Let us all know what you decide.

Monday, May 12, 2014

Imagine a Maker World

I have just over 20 ounces of 2-ply,  DK weight Romney yarn spun now and I am really getting excited to start a garment with it.  It will be a cardigan jacket of some type and I am sketching and swatching and loving every minute of it.  Design ideas are dancing in my noggin.

      Having spun the yarn myself is really icing on the cake for me.  I know I will have to spin more to get through the project, and while some spinners like to have all the project yardage done before they cast on (that was my original plan), I don't think I can stand to wait as the swatch has got me longing to cast on.  I am encouraged by the fact that I have been spinning on this yarn for a long time, and even with breaks in between for spinning other fibers (or even times of not spinning much at all), I seem to be able to produce a yarn that matches what I've spun earlier.  I'm easy though. The inconsistencies in the spinning please me.  It is my first hand-spun sweater and it's ok that it looks like I made it.  In fact it is the point of doing it.  Making my clothes matters to me.  And making the yarn..well like I said..pure icing!

       Now we come to one of my favorite subjects for contemplation: what if we lived in a world where we all wore clothes that we ourselves made or that were made for us by someone we actually know?  As knitters, we know the joy of wearing, or watching someone wear, our creations.  It's one of the major reasons we knit.  Kaffe Fassett once spoke profoundly to the effect that seeing someone wearing one of his garments, seeing it moving through the world, was one of his greatest joys.  We get that.  The making and wearing of hand-made clothing creates a connection that is important in more than just a superficial way.  It's a connection to our being as humans, to our common history and to our creative spirits. 
     Mother's day having just passed, I've spent some time reflecting on the gifts my mother gave me which include both her enjoyment of knitting and her appreciation for a beautifully sewn garment.  She made most of my clothes during elementary school and she taught me to sew.  Choosing the pattern and the fabric was (and still is) like a ritual, and the garments were so well made that many of my school dresses lasted to be passed down to many another little girl.  I didn't have a closet full of clothes, but I had a different dress for each day of the school week (!) and one or two for Sunday, plus slacks and tops and, yes, even my PJ's were hand made.  A few years ago I came across a hamper of cloth scraps in my mother's house with pieces of fabric from almost all of my little dresses. Connection happened again.
       Funny how thinking about something can bring along a synchronicity.  I picked up Sally Mellville's 2013 book, Knitting Pattern Essentials  from my "to read" stack this morning and in the introduction Sally asks,


"Why not make - and have hours of pleasure doing so - the one sweater that we treasure rather than spending hard-earned cash on the six that we don't?  Why not revert to the way humans have lived for most of their history - as makers rather than consumers?"

     Anita Luvera Mayer, author of Clothing from the Hands that Weave, and one of the most inspiring fiber artists I've ever had the pleasure to meet, believes that each day we should wear something magical and unique, something made by hand, something that expresses who we authentically are. She thinks it is more than important, that it is essential, and she shares her skills and her philosophy around the world in her book and workshops.
     Imagine a maker world, a world where we may own less but connect to it more.  What would it look like do you think?    Love to hear your thoughts.

Monday, May 5, 2014

Birds Nest Shawl KAL

      We've got a KAL goin' on in the Knitaway Group on Ravelry for the Birds Nest Shawl from

     Today is the "official" cast on day and my swatch is almost dry.  Get into your stash or hit the LYS  and join us.  We are pretty relaxed on our KALs.  It's all about having an excuse to knit together.
      Yes, I swatch even for shawls and especially when using a yarn that is new to me. It's a superwash too which seems to often give me surprising results.  Always block the swatch too.  I'm very glad I did on this one as it blocked out half an inch wider than expected  That's makes a quarter of a stitch per inch difference in the gauge and added up over the entire length of the shawl that's an increase in length of 4.5 inches.  I'm ok with that. This version is a gift for a tall Scandinavian friend who can carry the extra length, but imagine if this was a  garment that had to fit.  Like a sweater for instance.  Just a quarter of a stitch per inch makes a big, maybe deal breaking, difference.  You get my point here.....Swatch, please.
        You can see it's a gorgeous yarn and the color, Sugar Plum, perfect for my friend who has a penchant for roses.

 It's Celeste from Luna Grey Fiber Arts, an indie dyer from the western slope of Colorado.  She is doing some really beautiful colors.  I found the yarn at  one of my LYS, Colorful Yarns, but she's on Etsy too for those of you who aren't near me.  

Some of you probably know that I rarely work with superwash for reasons I'll not go into here.  Just really a personal preference I suppose.  We all have them.  My friend will greatly appreciate the easy care aspect. And this color and feel was irresistible.  I can be convinced.  I am ultimately more practical than I am stubborn.
     So will you join us?  Some of the knitters in this KAL have already knit the Bird's Nest Shawl but, like me, found another yarn tempting enough to have another go at it.  It's a pleasant knit, I think.  I may be prejudiced.  And this brings up an interesting question.  How often do you knit  the same pattern again?  Ever? Often?  Please leave a comment with your opinions and insights below.  Inquiring designers want to know. 
      Hope to see you at the KAL.