Sunday, June 29, 2008

A good weekend after a tough week

This past week verged on apocalyptic in California. An unusually dry spring coupled with a weekend of freak dry lightning strikes has brought the usual wildfire season to a ferocious and early start, with more than 1,100 wildfires burning throughout the state (Update - it's up to 1,400 wild fires as of Monday, 6/30/08. See news story here). While none of them have been anywhere near enough to me to be dangerous, that's not been the case for a number of friends of mine but as of the last I have heard everyone I know is safe, unharmed, and still has a home. But the air quality has been appalling. Smoke hangs heavy in the air, and the sun has been deep red at sunrise and sunset, casting blood-red streaks across the waters of the Bay and the Carquinez Strait near my home. It's an oppressive feeling having the air hang so heavy and making breathing difficult. But at last the winds have finally picked up a bit in the Bay Area to help clear out the air, so hopefully the scent of smoke will soon be swept away. Fires are still burning, but at least the air feels more normal now.
But life goes on, and I had a chance to spend some time with my friends from Sew Group today. We met at Patricia's house and had a nice sized group - 11 of us, which meant we had the opportunity to spend more time chatting with each other than sometimes is possible when the crowd is larger. As always, we had a wonderful time showing off our recent sewing adventures or bemoaning our failures, and I found new and happy homes for three of my items that were nice garments, but for various reasons just didn't work for me. Patricia's house is beautiful, the weather was comfortably warm without being too hot, our potluck was stellar, and the company fabulous. What more can one ask for?!

I have very few (as in, only 1!) knitting pictures of things as I am only working on a single knitting project at the moment (hard to believe, but true). I've been doing a little more sewing lately, but with mixed success, so there is no photographic evidence of that, but which partly explains the number of items I had to give away today. But the Must Have Cardigan is progressing very well - I've just started the armhole shaping on the back, so that piece will soon be done, and then I just have the fronts left to do. As can bee seen in this photo, I have added waist shaping to the back and will do likewise on the fronts. Cables have a tendency to be a bit bulky and stiff, and I thought a little shaping would help keep the cardigan from making me look bigger than I actually am.

I doubt I am going to make my goal of finishing the whole things before my trip to Seattle. TW and I plan to leave on the 14th, and time is getting a little short. But I don't really mind as I can now tell that this will be a very warm garment, and even with Seattle's cooler summers I don't think I'm going to need that kind of warmth.

Sunday, June 22, 2008

Mounds of Wool in 100+ Degree Heat

It's been extremely hot over the past several days in California - 104 degrees F/40 C on Friday in Vallejo. This would seem to be an inopportune time to decide to wind my entire cone of Webs Shetland wool into skeins, but I think the heat got to my brain and I indeed decided that this was the right thing to do. And now that it's done I'm glad to have the whole thing not only in skeins, but washed to boot! Coned yarn tends to be flat and ugly right off the cone and needs to be washed to bring out its true nature. The astonishing thing was how much the whole mass of it bloomed after washing. I knew it was going to be around 4,000 yards / 3.657 meters but the shear size of the mound was a surprise. This wild-looking pile is all 9 skeins heaped together after they had dried.

Using the wonderful clock-reel with built-in yardage counter that my Dad built for me, I wound off 500-yard /457 meter skeins at a time. I got 7 full skeins at that size, plus two smaller ones, off of the 2.2 lb / 1 kilo cone. After tying up each skein in 4 places to keep the yarn from tangling, I immersed them all in buckets of warm water with a generous slug of Eucalan wool wash. I like Eucalan because it's a no-rinse formula. The less handling given to wet wool the better, in my opinion, to reduce the risk of felting. I let the skeins soak for 30 minutes before carefully pressing out as much water as I could, and hanging the skeins outside to dry. Given the weather this didn't take long at all. So now the skeins are ready to knit whenever I decide what I want to knit, which is still very much an open question. There's a beginning gauge swatch in the photo; I've knitted up a bit on size 3 US / 3.25 metric needles, which makes a nice fabric, and have just begun on size 4 US / 3.5 metric needles, which is coming out a bit loose for a garment but might be fine for something lacy. The yarn is still not the softest stuff I ever handled so I doubt it will be knit into something that will be against my skin in any way.

Since I was already behaving inappropriately for the weather conditions, I continued the trend by working away on the Must Have Cardigan. Both sleeves are now done and the back has commenced. The only major modification I've made so far is to cross the centre diamonds in opposite directions so they will mirror each other. I'll repeat the mirroring on the body as well, especially since the back has two panels of the diamonds side by side. It would just look weird to me to have them both cross in the same direction.

I have also experienced a major frog attack. This pile of remains is what's left of a Chanel-style jacket I made a while back, and while the jacket looked great it made me look like a small, tweedy, purple whale. Not what I was after, so off to the frog pond with it. I have finally finished the unpleasant task of finding all the buried ends (lots of these as there are 3 colours of yarn in the jacket), picking out the seams, removing the extremely well-sewn-on buttons, and unraveling the double i-cord borders. Now all that's left is the rather pleasant task of unraveling and winding the yarn into balls. I find it easier to wind unraveled yarn into balls on my ball winder and/or nostepinne, and then will rewind it into skeins that I can wash to get the kinks out.

In addition, my good friend Catherine gifted me with a sweater she made but doesn't like that I will also frog. It doesn't fit me as is (it doesn't fit her very well, either, which is why she gave it away) so I will soon convert it back to being usable yarn. I haven't taken a picture of it yet, but it's knit out of a double strand of Plymouth Yarns Bulky Alpaca in a charcoal grey - very, very wonderful yarn! As it's doubled there's probably quite a bit of yarn in it but I don't know for sure how much, so I look forward to exploring it's possibilities once I have the reclaimed yarn in hand.

I will leave you with a picture of beautiful roses from my garden. The garden is an enclosed courtyard and is very much a work in progress, or more like a work waiting to commence. The building was abandoned for about 20 years before Thomas and I made our studio and home here, and the rose bushes somehow managed to survive all that time with no one taking any care of them at all. I have now found that in general the less I do to them the better, and this bouquet is the fruit of my non-labour. Enjoy!

Sunday, June 15, 2008

Stopping (or rather, finishing) and starting

At long last - the Hex Coat is done! And I am happy to add, I love it. It was a lengthy project ( I started it at Bodega Bay last March) but it wasn't nearly as much of a slog to get done as I actually anticipated. I did get pretty sick of moss stitch by the time the back was done (which was the final piece) and the hexagons were much more fiddly to do than I expected, but all things considered I never reached a point of not being able to stand the sight of the thing sitting around the house any more.

The hardest part of the hexagons was just the size and weight of the whole thing. Each hexagon is picked up and knitted right onto the front edges in the round on double-pointed needles, and that was a small amount of knitting to keep flipping around with a big weight in my lap. I did the majority of them before sewing the coat together, but it still was a lot of weight. But now it's done!

The neckline is really beautiful, sitting very high up on the back of neck. The photos in the book don't show the neckline at all so it was a pleasant surprise to see how it is shaped. After all of the hexagons for the front were done, I did a 3-needle bind-off for the shoulder seams, and then finished the last three hexagons that cross over the shoulder line and go around the back neck.

So to recap - the pattern is the Hex Coat from Norah Gaughan's Knitting Nature book. I used Cascade 220 worsted-weight wool instead of Lite Lopi as called for, which means I had to adjust the stitch counts, etc. due to my smaller gauge. Both the book and the yarn were gifts from TW - what a guy!

And as any knitter worth her/his wool would do, I've cast on for my next big project. The first sleeve of the Must Have Cardigan from Patons "Street Smart" booklet is well underway (actually, I finished it last night so the photo is a little out of date already). This cardigan has been very popular out there in blogdom, which is how it came to my attention in the first place. I'm even using the yarn called for (a rarity for me) but in a different colour - I'm using Paton's Classic Wool Merino in Aran Tweed, which is a greyed cream with tweedy flecks in blues, browns, and a little black; a great wear-with-everything colour for me. I'm doing the sleeves first to act as a life-size gauge swatch (the pattern just gives a gauge over stockinette stitch) as well as to get them out of the way sooner than later.

As is often the case with Aran-style knitting, the stitches in this cardigan are not as complicated as they appear. All of the row repeats are in multiples of 4 rows, and the wrong-side rows are simply knit the knits and purl the purls - nothing new happens on the wrong side. I did change the working method of smallest cable-like pattern that frames the larger central diamonds. The pattern had a fiddly slipping stitches from needle to needle while wrapping the stitches with yarn maneuver, while the final result was extremely similar to a stitch from the recently completed Loksins socks (in last week's post) that was far easier to work. Otherwise, I'm following the pattern pretty closer (also a rarity for me!) and so it's proving to be quite relaxing to knit.

Sunday, June 8, 2008

What passes for normal around here

As usual, lots is going around chez Kneedler. My mom is doing better; still pretty bruised up but the bruises are healing, albeit slowly. Mercifully she didn't break anything or (apparently) incur any serious injuries.

Last week TW was working like crazy on a big screen printing job at the Contemporary Jewish Museum, which is at long last having its grand opening today (read about it here). He's been printing wall text and signage directly onto the walls at the building, and as can be seen from these photos, it was a big job with a tight time schedule and a lot of challenges, as is usual with onsite printing. This is the 2nd time he's done such a job at a museum as it was getting ready for its opening to the public, and he does enjoy the energy and excitement of the behind the scenes activity.

On the knitting front, I'm happy to say that the Hex Coat is making significant progress. The hexagons around the neck are all done, at long last (in the photo I still had two to go but they're all done today). The hexagons are wrinkled little ugly messes once they're done but after a vigorous steaming and patting into shape start to behave themselves quite nicely. So now the knitting is officially finished; I just have the seaming and the finishing left to do. However, I am seriously thinking of doing some sort of small, discreet border around all of the edges; it feels just a little flimsy and raw along the neck and front edges, in particular. I will wait until all of the other finishing is complete before deciding, though. Perhaps just a row of reverse single crochet all around will do the trick. But I am definitely ready to be done with this project. I've enjoyed it, and I like how it's turning out very much, but it's time to move on, in my opinion.

And I finished the Loksins socks! They're really beautiful; a terrific pattern for someone who'd like to try a little lace but doesn't want to tackle a major project like a shawl. I'm looking forward to trying them again soon in a smoother yarn that will enable the lace patterning to show up better; the fuzziness of the this yarn (Knit Picks Palette) as well as the heathered colour obscures the detail a bit. A smooth, plain wool/silk blend with a little shine, perhaps?

Monday, June 2, 2008

Maybe next week

Friends - sorry for missing my Sunday post; I feel strongly about keeping to a regular blog-posting schedule and dislike being unpredictable. But life has a way of being unpredictable as well, and this past week has lived up to that reputation. My mom took a nasty tumble late last week and ended up in the hospital for a brief but scary stay, and while I am happy to say she is home again and doing well I chose to devote this past weekend to her needs instead of to my own affairs. So, I missed my personal goal of posting on Sundays but I am pretty sure anyone reading this will not fault me for my decision.

I'll do a bigger catch-up next week, but for now I can say that I finally completed plying the brown Perendale wool that my Dad bought me from New Zealand last week, and today finished the Loksins socks whilst on my ferry commute. The only picture for today is of the plied Perendale still on the bobbins, but rest assured that all 800+ yards of it have been washed, dried, and are ready to wind into balls ready for knitting.

Until next week..........