Thursday, January 21, 2010

I knitted a WHAT now?

Wowza it ha been a busy week! Despite my work schedule no longer being an obstacle, getting ready for back to school has been a HUGE (and very very expensive) task. Buying school shoes was compounded by Ginger and Twinkle both having hard to fit feet, and the propensity of Apple to fall in love with the first pair she tried, and thereafter want to do nothing but dance about in her new shoes while the excruciating process of fitting the other two drags on. Shopping for school shoes each year pretty much fulfills my definition of retail hell.

Anyway, as an upshot, I didn't do much knitting this week (until today - I just had to stop cos my hand is cramping!) nor did I get a chance to write about the two small projects I completed last week. So this is catch-up.

So... I've been listening to a lot of knitting podcasts lately - i.e. the entire back catalogue of KnitPicks podcast and Never Not Knitting - and Kelley Petkun of KnitPicks did a piece on knitted gifts. In this she said that handknitted hats, scarves and sweaters are not really appreciated by those not familiar with kntting, but that knitted socks and washcloths are, because the handknitted versions are so much lovelier than the shop bought version. This was surprising to me, as I would have thought hand knitting socks was a waste of time, when you can buy them so cheaply... and the idea of knitting a washcloth (or facewasher as we call them in Australia) would never have occurred to me.

But, the idea of a soft, drapey facewasher for when I do my home facials (I have an alarmingly large collection of skin care products) did sound kinda nice - a spa washcloth, as Kelley Petkun called it... Aaaaaaaaahhh...

I happened to be waiting for some notions to arrive at the time, so that I could start theamazinggryffindorscarfforginger, and needed something little to tide me over. So, I thought, why not a washcloth? I picked up a spool of knitting / crochet cotton at Lincraft for $3 on my way home that day, and cast on. I had envisaged doing the whole washcloth in moss stitch, so as to give it a nice exfoliating roughness, but after working a few rows, and rubbing it against my face, I changed my mind, instead keeping the moss stitch as a border and working the main body in stockinette. It just felt nicer.

At this point I will mention that there is something unsettlingly twee about a facewasher with a decorative border - this became apparent when I had finished the item!

I had thought I would be able to get about three washers out of one ball of cotton - after all, they are titchy projects - but was surprised to discover that my one facewasher took up about 80% of the roll. I had hoped that I would be able to make one, test it out, love it, then make a couple more to distribute to my friends on "girls nights" (which largely consist of watching DVDs with therapeutic goop on our faces). In fact, starting on Tuesday, I thought I might even get three made by my girls night scheduled that Friday. They'd be really quick to knit, surely?

Apparently not. I didn't even get one finished, despite taking it to work and knitting on my lunch break. And let me tell you, it is kinda humiliating to be asked by a colleague "So what's this you are working on?" and to have to answer "Ummm... It's a fswshuh" (mumbling with embarrassment at the utter dagginess of the answer). I think maybe the lack of stretch in the cotton stopped me knitting as fast as usual...

Anyway, I finally finished it. It was boring as Idol auditions and took about four hours, but I got it done. I then vowed that no matter how lovely it felt as a washer, it wasn't worth repeating the experience, and laid it reverently on my dresser as the one and only hand-knitted spa washcloth I would ever own.

I didn't get a chance to put it through it's paces for a couple of weeks, but a few nights ago I finally did. And despite the recommendations of the delightful Kelley Petkun who's opinions on all things knitted I have come to greatly respect, my verdict is exactly what I would have thought it would be before I embarked on this foolhardy plan. Far from the pronouncement of sensuous luxury I had hoped to be able to make here, my experience of using my new spa washcloth can be summed up in one (sort of) word: Meh...

Now just dare me to try knitting socks.

Wednesday, January 6, 2010

Forget Frogs - This one's for the dogs...

Oh god.

Oh god oh god oh god.

How could it go so horribly horribly wrong? I'm an alright knitter! I may be still learning but I never thought... Oh god oh god oh god. How could a simple Gryffindor scarf go so horribly horribly wrong?

Ok, I must admit, the debacle (as it shall henceforth be known) happenned a couple of weeks ago, and I am over the initial trauma by now. I am past the stage of keening and rocking while crouching on the floor and hugging myself, and have gotten so excited about the new, improved and TOTALLY AWESOME design for Ginger's Gryffindor scarf (Can't wait to write about this one!!!) that the loss of about six hours work and a tenner's worth of wool doesn't sting so bad any more.

So as you know from my post on my first project, Twinkle and Ginger both wanted me to make them Gryffindor scarves and I completed Twink's as my first project (BTW, she still complains it is too itchy for her. Damn) so now it was Ginger's turn. She is more of a purist, and so she insisted that her scarf be done in scarlet and gold as specified in the book, rather than the more Maroon colour of the movies' and Twink's scarf. This time, I based the colour blocks on the scarves from the third movie. That is, mostly red with pairs of yellow stripes at intervals The plan for the colours was this: Cast on 35 stitches. Knit 35 rows in red. Knit ten rows in gold. Knit 10 rows in red. Knit 10 rows in gold. Repeat pattern several times to desired length. Finish with 35 rows red. Cast off and add tassels.

As I wrote previosly, I was dissappointed at how badly Twink's stockinette scarf curled, despite being blocked and otherwise gorgeous. So I did some research on ways to stabilise stockinette stitch so that it would lie flat, and one website suggested using varius flat-lying borders (garter stitch, moss stitch, intentional laddering) to prevent the piece rolling up into a tube. I think the idea was that if the very edge didn't curl, the curling wouldn't spread to the centre. A niggle in the back of my mind said "there is no reason why that would stop the curling" but I didn't pay attention.

That website lied.

Nonetheless, I designed the scarf on that basis, with a five-stitch garter stitch border down each side, and about seven rows of garter stitch at each end. I further proposed to stabilise the scarf by doing the yellow stripes in moss stitch. The first 35 rows went fine, but when I went to do the moss stitch my twisted stitching got me into trouble. As mentioned previously, I prefer to purl into the back of the stitch and in order to facilitate this, the stitch below needs to have been twisted. So on row one, I did all my purl stitches normally, and all my knit stitches with a twist. Thinking I had been very cunning and that I could now just purl into every twisted stitch with wild abandon, I went to it without really watching what I was doing, opnly to discover that I had had a brain fart and ended up with a rib stitch (der fred... if you purl on the wrong side you get a knit on the right side... basic basic basic!)

Lesson 1) Think about how to do what you are doing. Then think and think and think again. And then check that what you thunk wasn't overconfident stupidity. Then double check it with the bits of your brain that have been watching tv while you were thinking it through. And for goodness sake look at your work!

Now, if I had had half a brain I would have stopped there and ripped that stripe out. After all, I had only done half of one stripe when I figured out my mistake! Truthfully, I think what stopped me was I was worried that I would lose a loop or two in the process and end up with dropped stitches. I was so afraid of making a minor error that I was willing to leave a major error in.

Lesson 3) In order to knit well, you have to be willing to frog. Being too afraid to undo a mistake will only lead to a lifetime of regrets. And it's better to risk having to lose the first 35 rows and start over by attempting to frog 5 of them than to risk the whole piece by frogging none of them.

"But," thought I, "it doesn't look too bad. A bit like a coarse stockinette stitch on both sides." So I chose to complete the stripe in single rib. But then came the real undoing...

For some reason - which I cannot in retrospect fathom - I decided to do the next stripe neither in the way I originally intended, nor in the way I did the first one. I decided to do it in reverse stocking stitch. Now I had done this before, but mostly in checkerboard or for the background of aran patterns and I didn't realise that a whole stripe of reverse stocking stitch without anything down each side of it will stand out like a tranny at a church fete. NOT mind you because of the textured stitching (which was what I wanted) but because it stands up really high against the stockinette stitch. That doesn't happen as badly when it has other stitching down each side, but in this case, it basically put a huge kink in the scarf so it didn't even hang straight. To make things worse, I forgot to switch back to normal stockinette stitch at the right time, so there were a couple of rows of red also stiching also sticking out above the rest of the scarf. The whole lot screamed "I'm a massive stuff up! Look at me!"

Lesson 2) As Boney M said, "Don't change lovers in the middle of the night". If I decided to keep the ribbed stripe, I should have just don'e all the stripes that way. Changing to an untested way of doing the stripes was just sodding stupid.

Again, I should have ripped it back. All it would have taken would be to frog out 17 rows of knitting to get the whole scarf back to the original design. And at this point it was quite clear that these two stripes simply couldn't be left in as they were. But no. For some reason, I decided to knit on, complete the scarf, and go back later to cut out the two bad stripes and graft in new ones. Bad idea...

Lesson 3) Again, this time bashing my whacking myself in the head with my copy of Stitch n Bitch: IN ORDER TO KNIT WELL YOU HAVE TO BE WILLING TO FROG!!!

So I finished off the scarf, thenceforth knitting the stripes according to my original design. Close to finishing, I realised that I didn't have enough wool left to knit those first two stripes again, so I went to Lincraft, with a little piece of my yellow "cozy wool" an bought another ball of the same brand in the same colour. I noticed at the time that they had changed the packaging, but I didn't think anything of it - after all, shops change their packaging all the time.

Finally, late at night, I cast off, and decided to get right into getting rid of those two awful stripes. I followed the directions in my one knitting book, the A to Z of Knitting by Inpirations Books (my copies of Stitch n Bitch and Knitting for Dummies still hadn't arrived by that time) and picked up stitches above and below the stripes that I wanted to take out. Then I carefully cut out the offending part, and began to unravel back to where my needles were.

This was easier said than done. I thought unravelling would be easy peasy but actually, it was awful. The work seemed to just want to knot and tangle itself together. I got it done finally, but then was faced with another problem. You recall that the main areas of the scarf were stockinette stitch with garter stitch edges? Well it was easy to pick up stitches in a straight line along the stockinette part, but not so much in the garter stitch part. A couldn't work out which bit of which stitch to pick up, or even which stitches were in the same row as my stockinette stitches. And it turns out I must have got it wrong, becaue those edge bits would NOT unravel. I ended up with a fairly neat row of stitches on the needle, with four lengths of yarn comming off it instead of one.

Lesson 4) If you are going to try a difficult new technique a) Try to get someone who knows what they are doing to help you through it, instead of relying a few pictures in a book or online and b) Don't attempt top do it for the first time at 11:30pm in bad lighting.

No problem, I thought. So I'll have an extra row in the border. You won't be able to tell. I'll just knit along, and work those ends away after it's done. So I started knitting in the couple of red rows I needed before putting in the stripes. I started knitting the first stripe in my remaining gold wool from the original ball. And as it took shape, you couldn't really tell that there had been a join. So far so good! I was doing it! I was actually doing it! I was fixing my mistake! The result wasn't going to be perfect but I was actually going to make it!

But when I took up my new ball of yellow wool for the last two rows of this stripe, I made an unfortunate discovery. The wool in the new ball was a completely different weight. It was only about 2/3 as thick as the original wool. I'm guessing that Lincraft changed suppliers for their "cozy wool" brand (this was before I knew about checking the dye lots to get consistent yarn) and that this was also the reason for the new package design. But I slogged on nonetheless and hoped for the best.

Then came the straw that broke the camels back. Halfway through the first row using the new wool, I realised that I had knit every stitch, instead of carrying on with moss stitch (it was so late at night I was getting sloppy). And that was it. That was the last bungle with this scarf I could handle. I downed needles, went to bed, and by morning had vowed never to touch it again.

I did actually come up with a use for this scarf, and I wanted to end this piece with a picture of Boof, our staffy, playing tug-o-war with it. After all, it seemed fitting that my dog's breakfast of a project should ultimately become property of the family pooch. And yet, I'm afraid even that meagre form of usefulness has been vetoed. Poor Boofie is getting old and he has started to suffer from bleeding gums this week. So it has been decreed that Boofie is to retire from tug-o-war (poor baby - it's his favourite game - but truthfully, he'd pull his own teeth out before letting go of the rope / scarf / kong).

One final comment... I am honestly not to broken up over this project going off the rails. It took a while to get over it but in retrospect, I have concluded that the design was just plain ugly. The red was too garish and the edging and moss stitch on the stripes didn't do it any favours. Even if I hadn't made those mistakes in knitting it, it wouldn't have been a nice piece, and that so-called "cozy wool" really is a bit to scratchy for the kids (don't think I'll be buying it again). I think the knitting gods might have intervened on this one, and smote the scarf that was judged and found wanting.

They say everyone has one really really awful knitting project in their history. Hopefully mine is now out of my system...

Saturday, January 2, 2010

Second Project: Wiggly scarf

It started with the yarn...

It was called "Fuzzy Wuzzy" by Lincraft and was a vibrant lime green with lots of halo and fine blue and an orange fibres showing subtly through the green. The interplay of colours was pure joy! And still being at the "scarf variations" stage of my development as a knitter, I have the luxury of being able to buy a ball of wool with no particular pattern in mind. (I wonder, does one get past the "I must have this wool - I'll figure out what to make with it later" stage and develop a more proactive approach to yarn buying? I also wonder if it is possible to get past the frustration of not understanding why I can't knit any pattern I want with any yarn I want regardless of weight / guage / style...)

So, fancying a break from Gryffindor scarves (see previous post), I decided to make a scarf for my youngest daughter, 5 (who shall herein be known as "Apple").

I knew this yarn couldn't be used for just any old scarf, however, and I just couldn't think up any scarf that would be do it justice. Keyhole scarf? Too ordinary. Moss stitch? Would get lost in that halo. Longitudinal ribs? To pedestrian for my bubbly five year old. It had to be a scarf that said "Why walk when you can run, why run when you can skip, why skip when you can dance, and why dance when you can climb all over Mum just when she has finally found a moment to sit down with a cup of tea."

So I hopped on and I trawled and trawled and trawled. That site has a wealth of patterns but geez it's hard work looking through so many links with no thumbnails! But finally, just when I was giving up hope I found this...

Revelation! What a perfect marriage of whimsy and simplicity! And I only had to add one new technique to my existing skills (increasing and decreasing) to achive it. This would be a cake walk. I showed it to Apple and she was unequivocal - this was the scarf for her.

She scampered off waxing lyrical about how she was going to "trick" her friends with her "Wiggly Scarf" (she seemed to be under the impression that it would actually wiggle like a worm and that people would think it was alive) and I set about casting on.

And here the illusion shattered. That yarn... that beautiful, beautiful yarn... was a sodding b*^ch to knit with. It had absolutely no stretch to it, and gripped to itself like velcro, which made it damn hard to stitch with any kind of rhythm. And those simple increases and decreases? I did followed the instructions in my book (The A-Z of Knitting by TK), but whenever I increased, the stitches would come out so tight that each zig and zag of my scarf curved along one edge and looked all mutant.

I started, struggled, and frogged* about 8 times. Every time there was some fatal flaw in what I had done. The scarf was coming out too wide or too narrow. Or the needles I was using were too big and the weave was too lacy. Or I couldn't tell whether I was zigging or zagging and changed direction after 2 rows. At one point I even switched to crochet to try and achieve the shape with a more familiar technique, but still the devil-yarn overcame me. Some of the pieces wouldn't even frog, so auto-feltacious** was the yarn! If it weren't for the thought of Apple's delight at the prospect of her wiggly scarf I would have given up.

Then somehow, finally, it clicked. I made a few changes to the pattern. I held my yarn with less tension and knitted my increases SUPER loosely. And I downloaded a free stitch counter app for my iPhone (simply called "Row Counter") to keep track of where I was. After so many false starts I was finally in the groove and the scarf began to take shape very very quickly.

And then a miracle occurred. Instead of climbing all over me, Apple became fascinated by watching me knit. The fact that I was doing it for her seemed to mean that she felt I was giving her my undivided love attention even though I was sitting comfortably, relaxing with my own choice of pastime and not getting elbowed in any tender places! Such bliss to have my little soft cute one nestled against my side watching her green dream unfurl. She even appointed herself as Stitch Counter manager, pressing the button on my iPhone screen at the completion of each row.

So, here is the final pattern I used.

Cast on 15 stitches using 5mm needles
R1-2: Knit 2 rows
To Zig:
R3: Knit 1, Increase by 1 in the second stitch(knit into the front, then the back of the same stitch), Knit until two stitches remain and then knit these final two together
R4: Knit the first two stitches together, Knit until 2 stitches remain. Increase by 1 in the second-last stitch. Knit the last stitch.
Repeat R3 and R4 x 4 times so your "zig" is 10 rows long.
Knit 2 rows
To Zag:
Do R4, then R3, x 5 times to make a 10 row "zag".
Knit 2 rows.
Repeat until you have the length you want.
Cast off!

This makes a sharper zigzag than the pattern I based it on, as I ommitted the plain knit row between each increase / decrease row. I also did my increases one stitch in from the end instead of on the very first/last stitch, as I found that doing it on the end stitch created divets in the edge. Doing it one stitch in created a smooth edge, but the down side is that it also causes the tips of the zigzag to curl slightly.

It came out GORGEOUS! It feels so soft. The pattern and the yarn work together perfectly. And the look on Apple's face when I gave her the finished scarf made it worth every bit of swearing and frogging to get it just right. She made one last request for tassels at the ends, and she's been wearing it almost daily since (even though it is the middle of the Queensland summer here and horribly hot) and every time she puts it on, she lights up. I can tell it makes her feel like a million bucks. Here's some pics of her modelling it (read:posing). Look at that happy little face.

These are the things that make life (and knitting) worthwhile...

*For those of you, like me, who are new to the jargon, frogging is apparently knitters slang for unravelling your work. i.e. "Rip it. Rip it". Get it?

** I hereby officially coin the term "feltacious" (something suitable for felting) and "auto-feltacious" (something which felts all by itself whether you want it to or not).

First Project: Gryffindor Scarf

My Kids are crazy about Harry Potter. I have been reading a bit of HP to my middle daughter, 8 (who shall here be known as "Twinkle") every night at bedtime and she loves it. Meanwhile, eldest daughter, 10 (who shall here be known as "Ginger") has nearly finished reading the whole series herself! So when I decided to start knitting again, they both requested Gryffindor scarves.

"Okay" Said I

"Who gets the first one?" said they in true sibling rival style.

"Whoever wants the crappiest one" said I.

"I do!!!" said Twinkle.

"I do!!!" said Ginger.

"Eeenie Meenie Mienie Mo..." said I.

So Twink got the first one.

I based it on the scarfs from the first movie (they changed the uniform style in movie three - I am a bit of a HP nerd). The Gryffindor colours as described in the book are scarlet and gold, but as was done in the movie I went for a more maroon and gold colour combo. The whole thing was knitted in stockinette stitch. I used Lincraft "cozy wool" and 5.5mm needles. I cast on 35 stitches and did 35 rows of each colour before changing. There were 4 maroon stripes and 3 red stripes in total with maroon tassels on each end. It came out real good, and if she ever becomes a Brisbane Broncos fan she is all set up with her first bit of kit!

What I like about this piece:
I love the way stockinette stitch looks when it lies flat and after I blocked it it looked even neater. Blocking sure helps cover up any uneven tension!

What I don't like:
It's a shame that stockinette stitch curls up so much (See picture). If only it would lie flat like rib stitch or garter. Oh well. No point railing against the laws of physics I guess. However, By the time I was two stripes in I was wishing I had chosen another stitch that would lie more flat, or had used a stabilising border or something.

Twinkle complains that the cozy wool is itchy. Wish I'd chosen a softer yarn!

Interesting things that happenned during knitting:
I discovered that when doing a row of purl, I prefer to purl into the back instead of the front of the stitch. However, in order to make this feasible, the knit row beforehand needs to be done with twisted stitches - i.e. wrapping the thread around clockwise instead of anticlockwise (I hope I got that the right way around). Anyway, that makes the back of the stitch sit higher on the needle than the front so it is easier to purl into it. I actually switched halfway through the second
yellow stripe and you can see a clear but hard to describe change in the stitch pattern at that row (see picture).

I also read about "continental style" knitting during the making of this scarf and decided to give it a go. I can see how it would be faster if you could do it well, but talk about dropped stitches! There's a row of very uneven looking knitting in the middle of the second red stripe (see picture). I found it near impossible to do without losing at least a ply of each stitch (and I hate split plys!). I'm sure if I persevered I could get to about 90% as good a result as I do with my
english style knitting, but I'm not sure I could do better than that, and quality is more important to me than speed! Besides, all my reserves of perseverance are in use in other areas of my life right now - my knitting is for relaxing! So I shall continue to be a thrower, not a picker, for the foreseeable future.

End result: Twinkle loves her scarf (even if it is too hot to wear it in the middle of the Australian summer) and I am proud to have successfully completed my first project!