Sunday, April 27, 2008

Wastin' away in Ravelry-land

For those of you who are already members of Ravelry, you do not need me to tell you how much time can slip by while poking around in that minefield of knitting and crocheting pleasure. For those of you who are not members, or haven't a clue what I am talking about, Ravelry is an online knitting and crocheting community; a social networking site for knitters, so to speak. Currently, one needs to sign up on the waiting list for an invitation to sign up, which happens in waves of up to 100 people per week. It's worth the wait.

If you are on Ravelry and would like to look me up, my Ravelry name is TheKneedler (no spaces between words).

I must admit to not having gotten into it too deeply when I first joined last July. I'm not really big on reading lots of online forums and list serves where people carry on online conversations of sorts about various topics, but there is certainly plenty of scope to do this on Ravelry if one wishes to do so. I have definitely enjoyed the access to lots of patterns and to see what people were using certain yarns for. But only since my Bodega Bay retreat in March have I fully succumbed to Ravelry's charms.

What changed? Well, after starting my Hex Coat project at Bodega Bay, I decided in a moment of time to kill to look on Ravelry to see what other people had done with that pattern. There were dozens of versions made in all sorts of yarns, complete with pictures of the finished coat; notes from the knitter as to what they liked, didn't like, would change, etc.; and most important of all to me right then, more close-up pictures of the coat front than the pattern book provided so that at last I could really see what those few stitches along the front edge should have looked like. (For a complete description of this unpleasant topic, see this post.) The hex Coat is coming along very nicely now, by the way.

The Aha! moment hit me, and I realized in a moment that I had a great untapped resource at my fingertips - I could connect with knitters from all over the planet (Ravelry has many international members) without even having to leave home. I can have a lot of contact with other people through the groups, forums, friends, etc., that are available, or I can remain my solitary self and use Ravelry only for my own organizing purposes. I can use it however I want.

As a result I have spent considerable time in recent weeks completing an inventory of my yarn collection (otherwise known as a stash) on Ravelry. I take photos of my yarn; upload them into flickr ( a requirement for posting pictures onto Ravelry) and then enter them one by one into Ravelry. I can enter in what the yarn is; where I bought it; how much I have in what colours, and any notes I want to include. Once this is done, I can then see how many other people on Ravelry have the same yarn stashed, how many projects are being knit with it, what they are doing with it, etc. I can differentiate my handspun from millspun yarns, and keep track of where it's stored.

The whole inventory can be viewed as thumbnail pictures, a list, or even be imported into an excel spreadsheet. I can also inventory projects I am working on, as well as create a queue of projects that I would like to do someday. To someone who loves to organize stuff, this is just a little piece of heaven.

I must admit to thinking that my stash didn't consist of very much stuff, but now that it is completed (at last!) I find that I own 77 balls of yarn that I deemed significant enough to bother with inventorying (I didn't include partial balls, scraps, or odds and ends of handspun). For any of you out there who gasped at that number, let me put it into perspective. My knitting buddy MmmYarn told me recently that she has 500 balls. She's even calculated how many miles of yarn that is, and while I can't recall the number she gave me, rest assured that it was very, very, impressive.

I think this means I need to go buy more yarn.

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Coned yarns are a different ball of yarn

I recently bought a cone of 2/8 Shetland tweed from Webs, and have been playing around with it a bit to see how the yarn behaves. As outlined very thoroughly by the Yarn Harlot a while back, coned yarns are different in some respects from yarns that come in skeins or balls. Until I read her post on the subject, I didn't realize that coned yarns still have spinning oils on them, which significantly changes their look and feel. But after washing they really come to life, softening and fluffing up significantly. (Oops - sorry; I thought I had a picture of a washed skein but it looks like I deleted it already. Please click here to see the difference in before and after washing).

Another trick of coned yarns is that while one can easily determine the total weight of the yarn, they're not usually labeled with the yardage. There are a few ways I can determine yardage. One is to skein off all of the yarn on my clock reel, which makes skeins that measure 2 yards in circumference, and (blessedly) has a yardage meter to count the number of revolutions it makes. I therefore know how many yards are in each skein I make.

Secondly, I can use a McMorran Balance (see the first picture in this post) to make an estimate of the yardage I have. A McMorran Balance has a small arm that balances on top of a base, like a child's teeter-totter. A length of yarn is laid over a notch in one end of the arm, with the ends hanging down evenly. This forces the arm down at that end, like the teeter-totter with only one person on it. I then snip off tiny bits of the ends of the yarn until it raises itself into a balanced position on the base.

It's a little hard to see, but the strand of yarn is lying right next to the tape measure in the photo, and measured 22 inches. I then multiplied 22 inches by 100, which gives me an estimated number of yards per pound. It's almost magic. By this estimate, I have 2,200 yards per pound (before washing). Considering that I have 2 pounds of the yarn, that gives me a whole heck of a lot of yarn.

Swatching has just commenced to see what gauge this yarn works up into, but at this point a single strand on size 2 US needles is coming out to about 6 stitches per inch. Given the sheer quantity of yarn I have I'm seriously thinking of using it doubled with larger needles. I'm not sure yet what it will be made into, but as it's not the softest yarn even after washing it will most likely be a cardigan that will be worn over other clothing, rather than a pullover or blouse-like sweater. However, I have just begun the back of the Hex Coat and have a long ways to go before I feel like I really have it far enough along to be able to risk starting another project. Here's hoping I can remain faithful to the Hex Coat before the siren song of new yarn gets to me!

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Moving forwards again

Today was a great day! I met up with my wonderful friends from Sew Group for an afternoon of fabric and yarn shopping in some new and unexplored shops. It's a real treat to have such good friends to shop with and spend time together, and I hope they all had as much fun as I did.

Piedmont Fabrics was started by a former employee at the now defunct Poppy fabrics, and East Bay institution that sadly closed last autumn. She's done a great job getting together a collection of interesting fabrics at a wide range of prices, with very knowledgeable staff to assist. The button selection was terrific as well. A definite go-back-to place.

As I can spend far more time in a yarn shop than can my friends, I headed over to Piedmont Yarns & Apparel while the gang was finishing up their purchases at the fabric store. It's a small shop, but with an interesting selection of yarns I don't see in other stores - many hand-dyed brands; some they dyed themselves (probably with Knit Picks Bare as the base yarn), as well as vegetable-dyed fibres from A Verb for Keeping Warm. I work with one of the ladies from this company at my job at the Museum, and she's a real sweetheart and her fibres are beautiful.

I was very restrained and contented myself with two skeins of Mirasol Hacho hand dyed wool. Ravelry thinks it's a DK weight but I'd call it a sportweight. I got one skein each of a magenta/fuchsia mix and a blues mix, and plan to do some sort of striped multi-patterned socks with them. I probably should have gotten 1 more skein to really be enough but if that's true it will be a good incentive to go back soon.

And the good news - TW's vest redo is all done and now it's the right length. The unravelling process was more painful than expected - i know that unraveling from the bottom up isn't really a smooth operation, but the stitch pattern made it worse than planned. But it's all done and we're both happy with it. Of course, now that it's really wearable we've had a heat wave and it's nearly 80 degrees outside but that will change soon enough.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

A visit to the frog pond

There will be no pictures in this post to enliven my sad tale or to document the wreckage. Suffice it to say I have been making serious backwards progress lately and feel the need to 'fess up to it, even if I can't bring myself to photograph it. But there is some major frogging goin' on here.

First, TW and I have faced up to the fact that his vest is too long. While it fits in every other conceivable direction or dimension, it is simply longer than really looks right on a guy. So it means taking off the buttons, frogging the neckband, undoing the lower part of the side seams, picking out the cast-on, frogging the pieces from the bottom up, then reknitting the lower bands, sewing the side seams back up, reknitting the button bands, and sewing the buttons back on. If all goes well no one will even notice that it wasn't knit that way to start with. Let's not discuss what can happen if it doesn't go well. The good news is that I now know for sure I have enough yarn.

Secondly, as I was merrily knitting away on the ferry last night, I started having the gnawing thought that the armhole shaping on the left front of the Hex Coat was looking a little, well, odd. I am using a lighter weight yarn than called for in the pattern and had refigured the pattern to suit the gauge I had come up with. While my gauge is different than the pattern, it's not a huge difference (4.8 st per inch instead of 4.25), so when I noticed that I was needing to decrease a lot of stitches to get to the appropriate shoulder width I started hearing those nagging little voices in my ear, hinting that perhaps something was amiss.

Now, to put this in context, I have already realized that I had messed up on the stitch sequence along the zig-zag of the front edge. For some reason I had simply not been able to figure out what was going on in the instructions, with the moss stitch, increases, decreases, etc. My mind sometimes descends into a dyslexic fog when trying to work through someone else's directions, and this was definitely one of those times. It wasn't until I looked at Ravelry and saw pictures of other people's finished coats that I realized that the front edges were supposed to have 3 stockinette stitches along that selvedge, instead of moss stitch all the way to the edge. Why I hadn't been able to figure that out on my own I don't know, but it did make the decreases/increases much cleaner looking and set off the row of hexagons along the edge very nicely. So I already had the niggling thought that I wanted to start over to make the front look like it was intended, which I also liked better than what I had done, but with the 1st front done to the armhole I decided I didn't want to frog that much moss stitch.

And then I noticed the size of that armhole. So I looked back at the schematic for the coat, and puzzled over what the problem could be. And then I suddenly realized what I had done. The schematic included 2 sets of dimensions for the fronts - one for the moss stitch sections only, and one for the fronts with the hexagons knitted on. When I reworked the pattern I used the wrong set of dimensions, and therefore had made the front a full 3 1/2 inches wider than it was supposed to be. I couldn't leave that, as it would make for a very oddly sized sweater to say the least, and there was no way to fix it any other way then to ....rippit, rippit, rippit. Can you hear the frogs sing?

Sunday, April 6, 2008

Christmas in April

TW's Christmas gift vest is done and fits him perfectly! He loves it (and is wearing it as I type, I might add). He's such a good sport he even was willing to pose for me in the vest while holding the little "paper doll" that I made as the actual gift I wrapped up for him last Christmas.

My fears about running out of yarn were well-founded but were circumvented by cannibalizing my gauge swatch to do the final armband. I am especially pleased with the fit, as this is the very first knitted garment I have made for TW (and that is due to his reluctance to have the sweaters, not to mine to make them for him.) I've sewn many shirts for him and so have a sense of what degree of ease he likes in his clothes, but knitting is so different that it still involved a certain amount of educated guesswork as I went along. He did give me the important clue that he greatly preferred erring on the larger than smaller side so anytime I was puzzled over how big/small/whatever to make something I always went with whatever resulted in the larger garment.

I am amazed how much larger men are than women, or at least bigger than I am. While I'm not the slender thing I used to be I am overall still on the petite side. TW is very broad in the shoulders and upper back and I was astonished to see how quickly the yarn vanished as I worked across those looooonnnggg rows. But it's done, he's happy, and so am I. What he doesn't know is that this is just the beginning of a wardrobe full of knitwear to come........