Sunday, September 24, 2006

Class Sock. Not.

I'm fairly certain I know a Class Sock when I see one (some of Eunny's socks and Grumperina's spring instantly to mind), and this isn't one of them. But I think it's awesome. I wouldn't have believed a couple of hours (total) and 28 stitches could have taught me so much. I think I begin to understand why some people swear by gusset/heelflap construction: the marked differentiation between the parts of the sock makes it easier to contemplate changes to the size/shape of each unit. I suspect I could get the same effect by carefully planning increases and decreases in the sole of a short-row heel sock, though, which might result in some really interesting stitch flows (see the feet of Grumperina's sock).

This was knitted toe-up starting with 8st on two 2.5mm circs, growing to 28st in diameter and finishing on one needle as a magic loop. Everything I do on two circs ends up as a magic loop on one if I'm not careful -- it seems to be my natural mode of knitting. I worked out roughly what to do from
Charlene Schurch's Sensational Knitted Socks (and used the slip stitch rib from the patterns) to start with, but her instructions for circs are for socks knitted the other way. The gusset I worked out from first principles while looking at pictures of socks: it gets wider, must be increases. Turning the heel proved more complicated. I started with Widdershins as a toe-up sock reference, but that's based on 4dpns using needle numbers as reference. I hate that. I briefly tried to work out the translation to my magic loop, but having had a couple of glasses of wine it seemed too complicated. Widdershins said something about short rows so I winged it, with a tiny short-row heel just in case and just to prove I could now do it right without looking at my notes. The gusset seemed to be worked by working back up the gusset from the short-row heel by knitting together a heel stitch and a gusset stitch, then knitting one more gusset stitch (presumably to close the gap as the short-row wrap does), then turn the work and work back to do the same on the other side. I can't have got that right, as the vertical line of my heelflap is nothing like as tidy as that on Widdershins. The point of the exercise is that I can clearly see how the gusset can be used to increase the circumference of the sock to accommodate a high instep, as the brilliant Charlene Schurch suggests. Just start the gusset a bit further forward on the foot and make a few more increases to make a higher gusset. The pointy top of the gusset will extend higher up the ankle, but that's a small price to pay for a better-fitting sock. I can see combining that with a section of k2p2 ribbing on the sole to pull the sock up onto arch of the foot if the higher instep is combined with a high arch. The short-row heel was unnecessary and/or not properly executed -- it makes a neat 90° bend, but in combination with my gusset it's tiny and pointy. I think the strip of stitches that are the heel will bend nicely anyway as the strip climbs back up the gusset, as it were.

After all that I'm not certain I'll knit a toe-up heelflap sock for D's Sock Token; I want to be certain I can do it right if it's for someone else. But the next pair for me will be. And the Class Sock? I think I'll add catnip to its filling of shawl test patterns, sew it closed, and see what the faithful henchcat thinks of it.

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Endings and beginnings

I am now the slightly puzzled owner of a pair of pinkish socks. As I've said before I hate pink, have done for years. But I don't hate these. I don't love them, but they intrigue me. Time and again I've found myself examining them closely, studying the way the colours blend and contrast. Some shades of pink are shudder almost attractive in combination with bronze and peach and many other shades of orange/pink/brown I haven't names for.
Pattern: Badcaul, from bought from Amelia
Yarn: Fleece Artist sock merino in Jester, on 2mm needles.
Comments: I changed the pattern. It calls for 60sts, but my first socks made in the same yarn (different colour) on the same needles were almost too tight with 62? sts, so I increased the circumference to 68st, using the extra to run another small cable down the centre front and back. Looking at the finished result I'd do it differently if I had it to do again, perhaps by running a rib between a couple of the cables instead. These socks fit nicely on my foot and leg, but they're really too tight on the diagonal from the corner? point? of my heel to the inside angle of my ankle, as shown here.

So. Clearly one reason for knitting socks is to have socks that fit. On the treadmill this morning I thought of ways to make elegant increases before the heel and decreasing after it to increase the circumference here. Then I remembered reading something, somewhere about doing something with the gusset of heelflap socks to adjust for this sort of thing, and decided that my next sock for me will be a 'class sock' exploring toe-up heelflaps. The next *socks* will be for D, according to the sizes on her Sock Token. Rib seems safer than stockinette, as it allows more stretch to fit a strange (as in unfamiliar) foot. I mean, they may also be strange in the sense of peculiar, but I haven't seen them so how would I know?

Another ending, in fact the entire story condensed for ease of reading. I'd like to introduce you to the other organisms that I'm happy to have in our house:

These are my little friends, the yeasts and bacteria of my sourdough starter. It's relatively young, only a few months old, a replacement for one that succumbed to a fatal combination of neglect, hot weather and an invasion of unwanted bacteria late last year. At about 9pm last night I fried some onions in olive oil until golden, combined these with light rye flour and a cup of starter and left the combination to its own devices while we slept. It had risen beautifully by this morning, when I added more flour, a little commercial yeast (because the kitchen is cold and I need the bread for tomorrow) and the rest of the ingredients. Three hours later I had this
which turned out (literally) like this about 2.5hrs later. I wasn't quite as gentle with the one on back left as I should have been...
and 28 minutes after that I had this.

Onion Rye. It's got the true sourdough tang, but not too strong. I might take a loaf to Pilates tonight to see if the instructor can be bribed to give us an easy lesson. I can post the recipe if anyone's interested, with instructions on how to build your very own sourdough starter. It's not difficult but, like other things involving yeast, it takes some time. The yeasts' time, but you've got to be there for them when they need you.

Another beginning: this is the start, three rows in, of Seraphim^2. That's 'squared', as in four corners rather than three. On 2.5mm needles (magic loop rather than DPN). Am I being foolish? Only time and effort will tell.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Not just another pretty face

They produce nice fibre, too. And they have really cool feet. I expect to see a gryphon or something mythical when I look up from these.

Our local alpaca stud (I didn't know we had one) had an Open Day on Saturday. If I had an acre of land I could have an alpaca. Three alpacas (alpacas want to be with their friends). Google could scarcely find an unkind word about them (if deeply offended they will spit green goo, being regurgitated stomach contents. Some are more easily offended than others). I think my husband was worried by my obvious fascination. He has reason to be. I think the one that looks like Dougal is a suri alpaca. If I had an acre of land...

And alpacas smell better than sheep. But sheep's wool in the hand is worth several dozen alpacas in a field.
How long does it take to wind 2500yds of laceweight into balls? By hand? with the skein draped over the end of the bed? AGES. This is Lisa Souza's laceweight merino in 'Wild Things', the stuff that inspired my recent search for the right shawl pattern. I think I've settled on Mim's Seraphim Shawl: lots of garter stitch, warm and simple to show the colours, edged with simple but elegant lace. I think I might try to work out how to make a square one. I have yet to wash/pin out the swatch, but I think I like it best on 3mm needles. I wish I had more experience in judging these things, but I won't get the experience unless I make a judgement and see how it works out.

Here's the next yarn on the bedpost. Don't let the image fool you: this is a colour colours that simply don't reproduce digitally. I've tried scanning it on my pre-press scanner and it still doesn't do justice to the depth and richness. Some sections are blue, some are purple, most are beautiful colours I don't have words to describe. This is a full 1450yds of Mountain Colors Weavers Wool in 'Purple Mountain' swirling around a waterworn, mollusc-pitted fragment of Durness Limestone from Applecross* in Scotland. I'd rather be in Scotland.

It's going to be a sweater of my own design (ha) knitted from the top down. I have the books (Walker, Budd, Zimmerman). I have the will. And in the colours of that yarn I have the necessary inspiration. I have to think a bit, though. I want a sweater design that I like as much as I like the colour. Collar not too high, in rib with a few cables for interest. I thought about long sleeves that widen so they can be folded back; it's a nice idea, especially as I tend to push my sleeves up to my elbows when I'm working, which wreaks havoc on nice rib cuffs. I have to think about that, as I may not have enough yarn for those sleeves and a body that grows out from raglan shoulders to something comfortably loose. I really want to do something to break up the otherwise large, smooth ski-slope that is my chest, now I wear the right bra size. I am thinking about filling the area where a 'v-neck' would be if this was a v-neck, perhaps with cables flowing down from the neck. I guess they can't be too complex, or they might almost result in smocking pleats where they finish on the body... wait, I think I've read that one does increases to add stitches to prevent cables doing that. Swatch? You bet. Just wait until I finish winding the rest of the 1450 yds into balls, by hand, as I wait for the computer to finish burning CDs.

* From this beach. You're looking WSW; if the weather was clear you'd see Scalpay and the southern end of Skye across the Inner Sound.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Falling for geometry

I cannot resist texture revealed by shadow, lines of light and dark meeting, merging, diverging.
And silk does this so very, very well. The subtle shifts of colour in this hand-dyed multi-colour silk blend don't interfere with my delight; in fact, they almost draw attention to the regularity of the pattern. But blocking/dressing proved far trickier than I expected, even with proper wires and stuff. The comfortable hollows into which we sink gratefully each night are a real nuisance when trying to stretch something evenly across the mattress. It occurred to me that I was producing a model of faster-than-light travel, where the (desired) taut, straight line of the shawl is the same as that taken by an FTL ship skimming above the gravity-deformed bumps and hollows of our everyday universe. Yes, I may have spent a little too long working on it. But I had help for some values of 'help'.

And then he decided that there was something living in our space/time, in the dark gritty reality beneath the FTL shawl line...
When he started trying to steal the safety pins I gave up and evicted him from the bedroom. The end result is still damp, but drying reasonably quickly, and will make a lovely gift for my sister. I have a minor reservation: the oft-mentioned 'seaside' odour of the sea-silk/silk blend is even more noticeable when damp. I'm not keen on it. I don't hate it, but I think there are people who would; I just hope she's not one of them.

Pattern: Kiri, a free download from All Tangled Up.
Yarn: Handmaiden Sea Silk (70% silk, 30% sea cell) in Ivory on 3.75mmm Inox 60cm circular.
Dimensions: 1 metre wide by .51 metre deep stretched lightly, unblocked; 1.24 metres wide by .74 metres deep after blocking.
Comments: I had two 500m skeins (current skeins are 400m). I knitted this exactly as the pattern (11 repeats plus border) and finished the first skein just before I started the border. I've got most of the second skein left. I wish I'd done at least one more pattern repeat, and would recommend anyone using this yarn do so. 1.24metres (4 feet) isn't a bad width, especially as my sister is smaller than me, but wider would be nicer. On the other hand I can knit a matching scarf with the remaining 400m.
Addendum: I just remembered. If you follow the pattern as written, the two sides of the shawl (either side of the centre line) are identical. I decided to make them symmetrical, so on one side all the 'slip 1, knit 2, psso' became 'knit 2 (which I decided to do through the back loop for some reason I don't understand), return to left needle, pass next stitch over the one just made, slide result to right needle'. This is the first time I have ever changed a pattern just to improve (IMnsHO) the design; I promise I won't let it go to my head.

Next? Well, I have (don't laugh) 2500 yards of
laceweight. Lisa Souza's superfine merino in the Wild Things colourway, dark blues and purples and greens with occasional flashes of bronze and aqua. I want an everyday shawl for me, something big and warm and not too fussy, partly because I'm not a fussy, frilly, lacy person, and partly because I want the pattern and yarn to complement each other rather than compete for attention. Options include the Kerry Blue Shawl (which doesn't feel quite right. I know I don't like the border. I know, I can change that :-), the Feather and Fan Shawl (Google found several images; here's one) from A Gathering of Lace (it's probably too girly), and the Box-Lace Shawl scroll down to July 2005 from Folk Shawls. That last is my first choice, but I'm having trouble choosing a needle size. I'm with Eunny on this; I want a closer fabric. Gossamer doesn't feel as though it will wear well, and I don't like huge holes. The garter stitch in my first swatch (3.75mm needles) was too loose, but even when stretched a bit the YOs seemed too small to make the pattern show well. Perhaps the bloom of the wool after washing fills in the garter stitch and makes the YOs stand out? More research is needed; after all, if I'm going to spend several weeks of my life (totalled over a year or more) knitting something, I want to end up with a something that I like.

I have to confess I'm also toying with the idea of working out how to 'double' the Kiri pattern to make a square shawl. I particularly like the way that lace pattern grows organically out of the centre line (as opposed to the way that the diagonals just 'cut' the lace in traditional shawl patterns such as Kerry), even if fuzzy wool wouldn't show the end result as well as the silk. It's not so complex that it would argue with the colours, I could add different patterns/borders (the existing one doesn't feel quite deep enough)... I could talk myself into this. What do you think?

Sunday, September 03, 2006

Sorry about that

I'm losing the race to get stuff done, partly because the one thing I really don't want to do (finish my accounts) is hanging around my head like some big black cloud obscuring my vision and distracting me from all the other stuff I want/need to do. The solution, of course, is to Just DO It. Which I will, as soon as I finish this.

I have finished some stuff. Because this is an honest record of what I did and how, here's a photo of the Shell Tank on me, even though I REALLY don't photograph well. I don't look quite so like a weight-lifter In Real Life, and the volume at the sides is not me, it's the wind catching the top. I just don't know if there's something I could or should have done to make it more flattering. The design seems to have to fall/flow freely from the shoulders/bust, and I definitely didn't want it so tight that my curves distorted the lines of the stitches, as I think that would emphasise my shape. So, being a 38, I knitted the 40 1/2, which is clearly too big. I always make stuff too big. I think in this case the best thing would have been to listen to the inner voices telling me it wouldn't suit, but the design of the thing intrigued me. I don't regret making it, and may wear it -- it's very comfortable -- but I think I will cherish the lessons I learned from it most of all.

I don't like knitting cotton. With patience, mattress stitch seams can be fun and *perfect*. Grafting is fun (I grafted one shoulder and did a rather cool if I say so myself 3-needle bind-off on the other). Picking up stitches by hooking the new yarn between the stitches of the existing fabric gives a MUCH better result than picking up and knitting loops of the existing stitches, which is what I used to do. If I have to knit cotton, I must join the new yarn at the edge of the work, even if it means ripping back 3 stitches short of an entire row. I like cabling without a cable needle even more than cabling with a cable needle, which is an almost indecent amount of liking.

Another success: I think I've cracked the short-row heel.
This pair of socks has only three heels, and the above shows both sides of the third. It may not be clear from the photos, but they match and the holes are tiny! I finally realised that, as you work back up the line of wrapped stitches, the intention is to knit or purl the wrapped stitches in such a way that the bulk of the stitch is forced to the back/inside of the sock. The trick lies in picking up the wraps and the stitch in the right way. There are a lot of sites explaining this; the resource most helpful to me was an Interweave Knits subscriber-only download by Véronik Avery. In short, knit a wrapped stitch by inserting the righthand needle normally, but through both wraps* and the stitch itself, then knit these three together. To purl a wrapped stitch, begin by using the righthand needle to raise first one wrap and then the other from the BACK of the work (that's the 'right' side of most socks) onto the lefthand needle. Then purl the two wraps and the stitch together. I have a lot of photos showing stages in this; if anyone thinks it helpful, I'll post them. Turning the heels leaves me feeling as though I'm on the home straight (although I may go up a needle size somewhere near my calves), so I've bought the yarn for a pair of socktoken socks:
I hope she likes it (Lorna's Laces in Bittersweet). On brief acquaintance I think the colours will suit both her appearance and her character. I have to think about a pattern; although I like both the multi-coloured socks I've made, I'm very aware that the yarn conceals the texture and vice versa. I want to try something different, something very simple that reveals the yarn. I recall seeing someone's straight stockinette stitch with a spiralling pattern of YO and k2T, possibly with a picot top. That sounds about right.

The shawl for my sister is growing steadily if less rapidly now I'm on repeat 9 (of 12). It doesn't look like much, but the foamy mess stretches to over 36" across. I am exceedingly well-pleased with this so far: I like the way the unblocked shawl looks like seafoam, I like the weight of the fabric, I like the way the pattern and yarn are working together. I like the fact that there's no way it can't possibly require all the yarn I set aside for it, so I get to think of something to do with the rest.
That means the treebark (alpaca/silk) scarf is at the top of the pile of projects. Yesterday was cool enough to knit it, but the forecast is for a warm week -- perhaps I can finish the shawl? Unless I'm distracted. Major likelihood of distraction here
Ages ago Joanne suggested learning to spin on a Bosworth. P&M Woolcraft didn't have any Bosworths but it didn't matter, as I couldn't bring myself to put down the Kundert. Also pictured is some almost unbelievably soft Blue Face Leicester in natural (aka cheap) and toning colours, one blue and the other the same blue with yellows, orange, etc. I want to play with plying. I think this lot will almost certainly end up too pastel-pale for my liking, but I have to start somewhere. And the spindle wants to spin, I can feel it waiting. It's very strange. It's hand-turned wood, 'organic' in origin, and yet in my hand it feels like a precision engineering instrument. I put a leader on it and practised spinning it clockwise (for singles) and it just hangs there, spinning. Waiting. But dammit, I have to do the accounts.

* I do the double-wrap thing to close the dreaded gap: after working a wrapped stitch, I then put a second wrap around the next stitch on the lefthand needle, the stitch that I'll be working when I come back that way.