Friday, August 24, 2007

Pillow talk

A while back I posted some pictures of some pillows I had made using Kaffe Fassett's "magic Ball" technique. To make a magic ball, collect a lot (at least 20) colours of yarns in some sort of related or gradually changing tones. Break off an arms-length of a couple of colours, tie them together at one end with 2-3" inch tails, and then add another length, and another, and so on.

The goal is to make a big ball of yarn in colours or tones that change gradually from one to another, and then back again, on and on through the whole ball. When knitting with this magic ball your colours will shade throughout your knitting without having to stop and decide which colour to use next (if this is confusing, see Kaffe's first book, Glorious Color. Examples of his style, and a description of this technique, are all there.)

At any rate, when I last made one of these magic balls I got carried away and ended up making almost 600 yards of blues, purples, and burgundies. Most of the yarns are hand-spun odds and ends, mostly from my early days of spinning when my technique was a little less refined, and I experimented a lot and had oodles of bits and pieces that wouldn't or couldn't be duplicated again. I also had some beautiful, almost-black dark brown llama yarn that was a recent gift. While I had made some pillows using the magic ball on a light mottled-colour background I wanted to see what the colours would look like on a solid, very dark ground. So it was time to make a new magic ball pillow.

I came up with a zig-zag design of three stitches in the magic ball yarn, and three stitches of the brown-black. The diagonals moved one stitch to the left every row for 7 rows, and then back again. I knitted my pillow in the round so that I could always work from the right-side rows. As can be seen from the inside view, all the knotted yarn ends just are left to dangle inside.

The pillow was designed to be 16" square; I provisionally cast on to start; once I got to about 10" up I put half of the stitches on a string to hold them, and provisionally cast on the same number right above to make an opening on the back, and then finished knitting the pillow body. I did a 3-needle bind off on the top and bottom edges to close each end, then picked up the held stitches and knitted an overlap on the top and the bottom of the back opening, with a small hem to finish each edge.

I washed the pillow and let it dry flat to block it, which evened out the knitting beautifully. To finish the whole thing off I knitted a striped, 5-stitch I-cord which was sewn on after completion, with an overhand knot in each corner.

Five vintage mother of pearl buttons and crocheted loops were added to the back flap. I added the pillow insert, which I had made form cotton batting and stuffed with a whole lot of yarn and spinning scraps (thanks to everyone who donated their yarn ends!) And now I have
one beautiful pillow, and enough of my magic ball and black-brown llama yarn to make another one to match!

Sunday, August 19, 2007

Just a thought.

I've come to the conclusion that good finishing skills are a mixed blessing. It seems to me that the better job I do of finishing a newly completed knit the more likely I am to later decide to unravel it. So here I am in the midst of unraveling a lace tunic that I knit earlier (pre-blog) this year. To add to the fun of picking out the seams and the woven-in yarn ends was the fact of it being in 2 different yarns that I alternated with each other throughout the lace pattern.

So as the picture shows, as I unraveled I wound each yarn into a separate ball, using used my ball winder to wind the larger quantity (a hand-dyed silk noil yarn) and a nostepinne to wind the lesser quantity (a hand-dyed, cotton/rayon slub). I have learned the hard way not to just unravel the whole thing and then wind back into balls, unless I want to make a hopelessly tangled rat's nest out of my beautiful yarns.

And why am I unraveling this sweater? It was a 2nd attempt at making something with this silk noil that I bought at Pine Tree Yarns in Damariscotta, ME several years ago. The skein was about 800 yards but is a one of a kind item - if I need more yarn I need to add something else. So I added this Blue Heron cotton/rayon yarn that is beautifully blends in without exactly matching. They do look great together. But from there it went downhill, and while the sweater looked nice off of my body it didn't look so wonderful when I had it on. It was much too long, for one thing, and being lacy it felt summery but was heavier than I wanted to wear in the summer. So I'd been thinking about unraveling it to turn it into something like a shawl, but I couldn't decide what exactly I wanted.

And then I found the Pasticcio Circular Vest by Shelley Mackie at elann's website (look in the free patterns) and there it was. Something fun to wear, sort of shawl-like but different, lacy, and a good choice for variegated hand-dyed yarns. This vest is by the same designer as the children's circular Pinwheel cardigans I was making a while back, the difference being it uses a cotton yarn in an easy mesh openwork stitch, and has no sleeves.

So I've just gotten past the stage of needing double-pointed needles and have switched to a 16" circular needle (Knitpicks Options size 5 US). The beginning was hideous with all those points, stitch markers, and lace patts to manage but once I got a couple of repeats underway it got much better fast. As I had done on the now-departed sweater, I am alternating the 2 yarns - on the 4-row lace pattern repeat I'm using the silk for rows 1-3 and the cotton/rayon for row 4 (there's less of that yarn than the silk so I have to use them in different proportions). The pattern is written for a heavier weight yarn on size 9 US needles but I'm going on the philosophy that the shaping to keep the circle flat works equally well at smaller gauges. If I'm wrong there might be more unraveling to come but for now the future of this yarn is bright again.

Tuesday, August 7, 2007

Since I've beenhome....

After coming home from my wonderful Wyoming trip had some vacation time to spend at home before I had to go back to work, which I put to good use by getting back to knitting and so dispelling most (if not quite all) of the nagging doubts about my sanity. I was able to finish up a few almost completed projects that had been hanging around since before the trip, such as the Pinwheel sweater for Madi (for the pattern look in the free pattern section of elann yarn's website.). I had planned to do the loopy I-cord border shown in the pattern, but failed to actually read the directions thoroughly before I completely bound off the outer edge, only to discover that the loops actually were the bind-off. Rather than unravel the bind off I settled instead on a pretty crocheted scallop border to make it girly for my very girly-girl niece. It will be her birthday sweater for her 2nd birthday in September.

As part of my project clean-up mood I also did a stash clean up and found some stuff to give to Goodwill as well as a few items to knit up quickly into projects - the kind that could be done in an afternoon and use the whole ball up as well. So I got a bunch of hats done to be donated to something or other; probably Afghans for Afghans but I haven't decided yet for sure. In the picture one hat is still on the needles but it's done now. (Not all the hats have been done since I came home - some were in progress before the trip).

I also made a quickie felted box based on the pattern in the Mason Dixon Knitting book. I knew the yarn I was using (a one of a kind skein purchased at the Bath, Maine farmer's market a few years ago) didn't felt completely but it was sturdy enough that even partially felted it would work for a box. It was knit with a double strand on size 10 US needles by the pattern instructions, with the only changes being that I put handles on 2 sides instead of all 4, and made all the sides a few rows shorter, as I ended up running a bit short on the yarn. I felted it inside a pillowcase cover by running it through the washer and dryer once, and then a second wash before shaping it to air-dry. While the stitches are still quit visible it did get a nice soft texture but firmed up enough to make a great project box for all the little balls I'm using for my mom's vest (see below).

Let's see; what else have I gotten done? I finished the Sockotta socks I started right after getting home. I used the Ripple Socks pattern from Not Just More Socks. I like Sockotta because of the high cotton content but the yarn colours bled quite a bit in the warm water I soaked the socks in before blocking them, and now the background colour is a light blueish grey instead of cream. I don't really mind but I'm sure glad I pre-soaked them before tossing them in with a load of light coloured laundry. It seemed to be the purple that bled the most.

And last but not least I've made progress on mom's vest. It starts in the center back and is knit from side to side rather than bottom to top, and I'm finding it trickier that expected to work in all the shaping, the stripe patterns, and the limited quantities of the yarns. But I'm finally happy with how it looks and am almost done with the back. All the little markers in the photo are my tracking method for the decreases, increases, dart shaping, etc; it's proving to be much easier to use the markers than to try to make notes of what I've been doing. This is a design that will never have a chance of being replicated, to say the least.