Thursday, May 24, 2007

Can knitting help?

My sister in law, Helen, recently told me of a good friend who's recently been diagnosed with terminal brain cancer. She has 2 children under the age of 3 and is faced with not only her own death but knowing that she'll never see so many things in her children's lives, like seeing the baby take his first steps, or teaching her daughter to read, or..... so many things she won't be around to experience and be a part of. And there's really nothing anyone can do to help her right now. But as Helen said, the thing we can do is something for the kids. Helen is an active, energetic person and has gotten together with a number of mutual friends to do some fundraisers and other events to get the story out and to raise some money to start a trust fund for the kids as well as to help defray some of the day to day expenses the family is facing right now. I can have only a small sense of what this poor woman must be feeling in the thought of leaving her kids, and as so often happens in the face of hopeless odds, my inclination is to do what I know best how to do, and that is to knit something. So I'm making children's sweaters for a raffle drawing that will be held at one of the fundraising parties Helen is working on. It's all I can think of to do.

I went through my stash and found several colours of basic knitting worsted wool and decided to try the Pinwheel Sweater for Women and Children by Shelly Mackie; it was a free pattern from elann I couldn't find it last time I looked but there's a very similar design on their website right now. It's a really addictive pattern to make that starts out as 8 stitches in the center and increases every other row in a circle to the armholes; stitches are held for the sleeves as the body is finished, and then the sleeves are added afterwards. The original design is in multiple colours starting at the center and progressing out in rings of colour; I had a lot of leftover Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in the Black Purl colourway that I thought would be fun to try. It doesn't show so well in the picture but it shades from pale lavender through greys, purples, to black. In one colour in about a size 2 it took about 300 yards exactly. It can supposedly fit a wide range of sizes; the pattern says it will fit babies to 4 years old, so it seemed like a good choice for a raffle prize when the wearer is unknown right now.

I had so much fun with the pattern that I made a second one in denim blue Paton's wool. Each sweater only took 2 days of commute knitting and evening knitting to finish. Let's hope that it will bring some joy to a little girl in the near future, and help in some small way to help Helen's friend.

Saturday, May 19, 2007

New Project

It's so terribly rare that I actually make a commercially designed pattern in the yarn it was designed for that I am still a little surprised at this sweater in progress. It is "Ljod" from Elsebeth Lasvold's Book One The Viking Knits (picture # 3 is the illustration from the book). This particular pattern is the reason why I bought the book in the first place several years ago.

I purchased the yarn during a stop at Knitterly in Petaluma last March, intending to do a very different design but it was just a little short of being enough yarn. I bought it in a moment of weakness as it was just the look I was after, but it really wasn't enough. So I pondered and puzzled, searched my pattern archives, and thought about what it was that I actually wanted to make, and I found this pattern. It's just what I wanted.

After swatching a bit and finding that, as usual, I needed to go down a needle size I actually got the recommended gauge and commenced knitting the back. Picture 1 is the back completed up to the neck; picture 2 is a detail of the love knot cable. It's pretty straightforward once I got a handle on the chart and I really like the finished results.

The shaping for the cardigan is very feminine; the triangular reverse stockinette gussets for the cabled areas decrease on each side every 4th row, while the side edges are also shaped through the waist area. A 2-stitch purl section continues up the body after each gusset is decreased away like a princess seam line, and shaping continues along this line as the body progresses. Once the waist shaping begins to increase again for the upper body the shaping is also done along these purl stitch lines as well as the side seams.

I've just begun the left front and will post more on the progress of Ljod after I digress in the next few days with a more serious project.

Tuesday, May 15, 2007

Update on the Handspun Yarn Pile

Part of the point of pulling out all those hand spun yarns last month was to see what, if anything, I could do that used the Kaffe Fassett aesthetic. His sense of colour and pattern was extraordinarily influential in my early knitting days and while I haven't made lots of his designs his influence has always been lurking in the background.

I knew I wanted to make a vest; something with sleeves would probably have been too bulky in the yarns I had without becoming an out and out coat, and I didn't want something that big. So, after poring through the vast number of his books that I own, I chose to work with a variation of his Ikat Stripe pattern from his Pattern Library book (I'm not sure of that's the correct title but I'm too lazy to get up and search for the book right now).

I decided to work the stripe pattern vertically around the upper body, and later on a wide border will be added around the bottom edge to make the lower portion of the vest. I determined my gauge, and after first mis-understanding the pattern by thinking it was a 15 stitch repeat (in fact it was 21 stitches) I plotted the length of my vest from shoulder to a reasonably flattering point at my lower waist. Once the stitch repeat count error was discovered, I realized that a 21 st count equaled 4 repeats down the back, but the 15 st count I had planned on resulted in 5 repeats. I liked the odd number much better, so I re-graphed the ikat pattern to be 15 st instead of 21 st. It's a really random pattern anyway and doesn't matter much of I mess it up - it just adds to that handcrafted look, right?

I graphed one 18 row repeat, and 2 different 6 row repeats. The blue and grey section with black & white checks on either side in the photo is an 8 row repeat, and is the center back of the vest. All of the greys, browns and whites,and some of the blacks, are natural wool and/or alpaca colours; the blues, purples, reds and the remaining blacks are dyed.

I cast on provisionally (crochet cast-on) at the left back shoulder, and knitted in pattern across the back to the right shoulder edge. Once I got the back width established, I unraveled the cast on and put the left back on a second circular needle (I'm using # 5 US if anyone needs to know). I calculated the armhole depth, and have put those stitches on holders for now. I'm now ready to start knitting around the sides toward the fronts. Stay tuned for the next Ikat Vest installment!

Monday, May 14, 2007

Maddie and Aunt Misty

Yesterday was Mother's Day. I am not a mother, but I am so grateful that my own mother has always been such a good friend, and such a tremendous supporter of all my handcraft talents and abilities. She can make anything, and is such a gracious hostess and good cook that Martha Stewart should be ashamed. I spent the weekend with her and greatly appreciate the fact that she now lives less than 2 hours away, driving time, whereas she had previously lived in Maine; as I live in California this didn't exactly allow for frequent visits until now.

While I'm not a mother, I am an aunt and had great joy in spending part of the day with my 20-month old niece when my brother and sister in law stopped by for a while. That's me and Maddie in the 1st picture, and Maddie with my Mom in the background of pictures 2 and 3. Maddie is holding some of my knitting needles (knitting attached - subject of a future blog) to fulfill the duty of a knitter to put knitting needles in a baby's hands; folklore states that if the child holds them then she/he will become a knitter also. I actually did this many, many months ago but before I had a camera of my own. My brother did take pictures for me but was clearly quite puzzled by this bit of feminine folkloric wisdom and I was never able to get one of the pictures out of him. I think this also points out the downside of digital cameras. It is possible to take such a huge number of pictures so easily that finding them again later on is too huge a task for human endurance.

Maddie is on the tiny side for her age (I was too until I turned 40, and then I became all too typical for my age) so everything I've made for her so far has taken her a long time to grow into. I planned ahead for this visit an took along a tape measure to get some critical measurements, figuring that she would either think that measuring was a really fun game or start screaming like a banshee after one attempt and that would be the end of it. Mercifully for all, she was deeply intrigued by the tape measure and it's ability to go in and out (fortunately the rewind button didn't make the tape zip back in too vigorously and scare her too badly). I got all the measurements I could think of taking, so maybe I can finally make something for her that she can wear in the season for which it was intended.

My plan is to make her as many things as I possibly can, both knitted and sewn, that will allow my thousands of ideas to blossom while she's still not fully expressing her own taste in clothing. I can continue to indulge in wild flights of lavishly girly flourishes and furbelows until that dreaded day when she decides for herself what she really wants to wear. I fear that once she hits the age where she has definite likes and dislikes about her clothing that she is going to opt for distressingly plain store bought items, and will disdain my handcrafted treasures. I am attempting to be resigned to this fate, but will do my best to honour her choices when the time comes. In the meantime, I better get started on the cardigan with the adorable ceramic cat-face buttons........

Saturday, May 12, 2007

Entrelac socks are done!

I finished my socks about a week ago, but it's taken a while to get around to blocking the socks, getting a photo, etc. But at last, here they are!

I really enjoyed the challenges of making these socks, which is the main reason I wanted to make them. I'm not sure whether I'll make them again, but Bex has made them in Cascade Fixation, which is cotton yarn with a touch of elastic, and she's been very happy with her results. I'd like to give a try to a crew-length pair in the cotton, and refining a lot of the techniques to see if they come out a little more to my liking. The short row heel was definitely not popular with a lot of the other sock knitters on the Entrelac Sock knitalong, so maybe I'd give Patricia Gibson Robert's version a try again.

I'll post more soon about the upcoming challenge project my local knitting circle has decided to work on, and maybe I can talk them into doing our own knitalong at the same time - stay tuned.