Tuesday, December 29, 2009

Holiday knitting

There is a part of me that feels perpetually out of sync with the world, at several different levels. There is the part that is a knitter, in what at times seems a world of non-knitters, O-yes there is Ravelry, and the online knit community, and there is the hard-core set of local knitters I've found .. but generally the world is not comprised of knitters. There is the part that likes to do things properly, as in well made, well crafted, well finished, made to last .. in world that seems at times more attuned to the disposable and shortcut solutions. Then there is the 'holiday' blog post, where bloggers post spectacular photos of their knitting in far flung and exotic locations ... not me, I'm posting my holiday knitting from the small and very rural village of Waimate, and its not really holiday knitting, its just the knitting I was going to do anyway .. but this time its on holiday with me. Today - an example of the lengths I can extend to in my extreme geekness to makes cuffs match, as an effort to Sync with the holiday knitting genre .. I've got images of my knitting 'on-holiday', and family friendly bananas. And no, there was no Rodeo, well there was but it was lighlty raining so not being true hard core rodeo fans we stayed in with my Dad, where it was warm and dry.

First Whisper, it grows, and if you recall I knit the first cuff in double knit so it would not roll up ... and trusted that I would find a solution so the other cuff would match. The cardigan is cast on at one sleeve cuff, and knit up the arm, across the shoulder and down the other arm, finishing with a cast off on the other cuff. Problem was that I wanted to cuffs to match and a standard or sewn bind off is not an exact match for a twisted long tail cast on. I knew that I could work cast on the second cuff the same as the first and graft the two together .. but I was hoping to find a simpler solution. Didn't happen, so I knit right up to the second cuff, and set that aside, and cast on the second cuff and worked the 4 rounds in double knitting .. and sat down at the table to graft them together. I warned Bear this was going to be an hour or more, and was tricky and kinda stressful so if he could be a dear and monitor the cubs and take care of any issues ... please? He did.

As I started I wondered what my options were should this fail, I decided my Plan B if it all turned to a tangled mess was to remove both cuffs, and pick up the live stitches and knit them down, and cast them off - identically. Secretly I hoped it would not come to that - but I knew it might. I started with a yarn tail 4 times the circumference of the sleeve ... and wove, carefully and loosely. I figured it was better to weave loosely and to stop and tug it tighter at intervals. Inside I had my fingers, my toes, my knees, and just about everything crossed ...

Every 4 or 5 cm ... which seemed an age I stopped and carefully worked each stitch firmer, being slightly scared of over tightening I keep it all loose. My plans were to work over it again and again if needed pulling, and tugging and gently removing the extra yarn until the grafted stitches matched in size the stitches above and below them.

It took a while, but I got there, I had to work my way carefully around the grafted row at least twice to snug the stitches up to size, and I know there are a few that look twisted .... I grafted them as they lay ... but its seems they may have been twisted on the needles, or just the singles are behaving oddly (my excuse and I'm sticking to it).
The end result is a matching cuff on the second sleeve, and if you look carefully you can maybe spot which side is grafted, maybe. Post blocking the difference should be invisible to all but the most finicky knitter.
The grafting done, I packed Whisper with my other knitting and headed off to visit my Dad, during my time away I picked up the hundreds of stitches and worked the rib band around the body opening ... 3" in 1x1 rib. My Dad has a small collection of vintage Case tractors, this is a 1930's or 1940's one awaiting restoration ... and vintage tractors make for a different display setting for knitting.

My 'other' take along knitting was my new sock, and with it my new favorite sock needles (thanks Suzanne), Signature 2.25 dpn in 6". The pattern looks complex but in reality it has small repeats, the lace is only really 2 rounds (with purl rounds between), and the cable moves over 2 stitches every lace round. This is also one of those patterns that begs the knitter to finish the chart, I could see the cable heading for the central turn .. and I just wanted to knit those extra few rounds to so the cable would turn .. and then of course ... I'd want to knit the next sway of the cable. The prop in this photo is another of Dads vintage Case tractors, a 1939 if I remember correctly (I'm not the enthusiast .. just the relative).

Given how easy the sock is to work on, and how pretty the blue is, I made good progress while away .. and returned ready to turn the heel. I noticed there was instructions for knitters who during the Launch knit-along knit the leg chart as instructed, and missed the errata .... those knitters had knit too far, so the designer had provided alternative instructions so they could complete the heel and foot without frogging. This suited me perfectly as the errata instructions provided easy steps for knitting the leg a teeny bit longer ... keeping in pattern, I do like my socks longer rather than shorter. Perfect! Heel turned, gusset picked up and in the process of decreasing away. If I was to change one thing about the pattern it would be to work a few more rows of the leg chart .... so the cable across the back of the leg ended at the side of the heel flap. The cable does pull in, and I would recommend that knitters working this sock do take time to try it on once a cable repeat is worked - just to check.

One thing that we have been enjoying as a family this year is Bananagrams, a cool banana shaped bag of what look like scrabble letters. I've gifted several of these away to kids during the year, under the guise of Toby or Poppy giving birthday gifts to friends. The feedback we gave on the first gift was so positive, that we kept giving them ... and finally I realized after many many parents commented on how easy and fun the game was I thought that perhaps our family needed a Bananagram. We opened it christmas day, and it is fun, silly fun, the game starts with the command Split, and there are moves like Dump, Peel, the pile of letters is called the Bunch, and the game ends when a player is entitled to shout Bananas! There is a low stress variation called Banana Smoothie, and my favorite is the Cafe Variation - where one plays the game in a restaurant or cafe after placing ones order, and whilst waiting for the food. There is even an i-pod touch or i-phone version available - which is tempting as I did score an i-pod touch for Christmas. I've already got it syncing with my email, it provides snapshots of the weather in the locations I choose (here, Waimate - and CA), I can check the TV listings, I can visit Ravelry with it as long as I'm in range of our wifi, and I've loaded a few wee knit programs, that count rows, provide conversion for needle sizes and measurements, a spin tools kit, and knit gauge tools - and it plays the music and knit podcasts I love. I don't want to gloat .. but this is one seriously fun geek toy to have in ones possession (as long as you have wifi - would be much less fun without wifi).

take care
na Stella

Friday, December 25, 2009

Christmas summer holdiays

- yes, for us here on the 'other side of the world' Christmas is about summer and light and warmth and beach visits and picnics, as well as friends and family and being generous of spirit and time and energy (patience with small children, adults and all visitors falls into this category). Being summer and south of the 42nd parallel the twilight makes some Christmas traditions trickier to pull off. The tree decorated with lights is a good example, you would think that with 160+ years of New Zealand experience and tradition to draw on we might have come up with a tradition more suited for our long twilight light summer nights.
No, we have not, we decorate or trees as if it is winter, and dark, and then wait until at least 10pm or latter to see the effect.
Its worth it, although this year I only woke up the elder cub to view it, the younger one I left sleeping, I did creep into her room and call softly .. but let sleeping cubs sleep should be any sensible parents motto.

Christmas day has passed here, and all is well, it was a quiet day for us, we are away to visit my dad and younger brother tomorrow. There was catching up via the internet and old fashioned phone calls, and long periods of quiet about the house as we all played with our new 'stuff', or explored the new stuff of others.

Me I had fun, watching Poppy play with her toy family, she had them all lined up to make lunch followed by having them dry the dishes, Toby spent the day seemingly knee deep in lego proving true that if lego is your thing .. well lego is your thing, and lego seems to be the thing for which that small boy falls. Bear gathered us all up for a walk around Sullivan's Dam for the afternoon .. it was a grand day, 24 degrees C (75F), sunny with no wind to speak of.

Me... I was spoilt, there were no arguments, no tantrums, and it was an easy day, spoilt totally, new fibre, signature needles, and new yarn ... so I fluffed around on Ravelry finding a suitable pattern to break in my new Signature dpn needles (no real breaking required - I'm hooked - as soon as they do circs in sock sizes I'm in). the sock is TTL Soctober 2008 Mystery Sock, by Kristen Kapur. I'm loving the needles, the yarn is Vintage-Vintage Purls Sock, one of her early editions (the packaging was different).

So much fun, sharp, smooth, stiff, light - luxury, that was just the needles, the yarn is soft and silky and pretty. The pattern interesting and I love the look of the finished sock.
... next the Waimate Rodeo (where every year I threaten to buy a cow-girl hat and wear it).

na Stella

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Self imposed ...

deadlines, the ones that knitters sometimes invent for no good reason. Deadlines, that possibly derive from having no socks at all on the needles .. and Christmas being 2 days away .. and thinking 'I wonder if I can finish Whisper in time to wear for Christmas?". I have no idea why I would want to set myself a target like that ... Whisper is fun to knit, a pleasant knit, I keep stopping to stroke the wonderfully soft fabric growing from the needles .. but I'm only just past the center back on the shrug section .. and conceivably I could finish it Christmas eve (tomorrow night) .. but I suspect it would break me and the family should I try. Still ... I knit, and stroke and think "ooo ... wouldn't it be nice to wear it for Christmas'. Don't worry, I'm only playing with my own knitters mind ... I'm not about to make it a fixed challenge .. honestly with the sun finally warming up this corner of the world, I've much better and more rewarding things to do with the time before Christmas than sit on the sofa and knit for 28+ hours straight. So being on holiday I'll knit for as long as I want, when I want and make sure I do the things that I need to, things like wrap hand knit presents and weave in forgotten ends, things like bake bagels because FrozenDirect didn't have any left when I went to buy them, things like distract myself with crochet ballet nets ....

I'm still Whispering, and fighting the urge to try finish this in the next 36 hours. I've knit the sleeve, across half the back, worked the center back gather ... and am part way across the rest of the back. I love this yarn, it is so so soft, luxuriously ridiculously soft. I have a secret fear it will pill, it is so soft, but I'm telling myself that as it is felted, it won't pill (much). I was tempted to alter the pattern (again), I saw the across back measurement was 24" and that confused me. In my professional world of pattern-cutting, the across back measurement is taken across the back, from the fold where the right arm meets the body across the back to where the left arm meets the body. Using that methodology my personal across back measurement is 12" ... the pattern is for a 20/22/24" across back. That little bit of information worried me ... I thought there must have been an error of some kind. I Google'd, I Ravelry'd, I tried to find out what others had done to knit Whisper to fit. Quite a few had adjusted the back to gain a better fit.

The designer further confused me by making saying the gauge made the fabric forgiving and stretchy, and providing the size she knit and the size of her chest as a comparison to guide knitters. What she didn't provide was an indication of her own across back measurement - that would have been useful. Then understanding struck... first that the across-back measurement that I know as used in patternmaking is not the across-back measurment that is defined for American knitwear. Large sigh of relief, as I at-the-same-time realized that whilst one could try on the shrug as one knit, the body opening would eventually be 6" smaller once the 3" of rib was added around the shoulder/sleeve/back section. A relieving ah-ha moment as I finally understood the 20/22/24" measurement and how it related to the instructions. As I knit towards the center back, mentally tossing around my options for making it fit, before finally realizing that it would fit if I just trusted and followed the instructions .... I also pondered the use of the 'gathering' at the center back. None of the Ravelers I stalked mentioned it .. I wasn't sure if I wanted the back smooth or gathered. Finally I decided that if the sizing worked .. then I should trust the pattern and knit the gathers as written. Here they are, a row of k2tog, a purl row, a row of k1m1 ... continue as before to the other side. I suspect the gathers provide stability at the center back and prevent the back of the shrug from drooping.

Between Whisper knit sessions (Whispering?) there has been Christmas preparations, including wrapping of presents. Luckily as I prepared to wrap the Mojo I knit for my Dad ..... I slipped one onto my foot for one last admire before they become someone elses socks ... and discovered they were not finished! Oddly I had only woven in the ends of the afterthought heel on one ... imagine that, gifting unfinished socks. I'm pleased to say that all the ends are all woven in now, and I won't be embarrassed by loose ends when he opens them.

Other pre-Christmas distractions involved making Bagels, using a recipe from The New Zealand Bread Book, by Mary Browne, Helen Leach and Nancy Tichborne (Godwit, 1996). I've not made Bagels in over 10 years, pre-children, and this is not the recipe I used before, it makes too few, but it is a good recipe. I made a batch the day before - and again yesterday that time doubling the quantity. Bagels are deceptively easy, the recipe always reads like a lot of work but really its only one 10minute knead, I did that by hand - I enjoy the way the dough turns silky and stretchy as its worked, followed by 5 minutes of making buns with holes (a whole-lotta fun - sorry for the pun). I twirl these on the handle of a wooden spoon and its more fun than work. Then the bagels sit for 15-30 minutes to proof, covered by clean tea towel. I'd like to think the NZ coloured sheep kept them warm.

The poaching is quick, 4 at a time for 20 seconds, hardly any time at all, brush with egg glaze, then straight into the oven, for a 20 minute bake. The clean up between each stage is easy, a bowl and a measure, and silicon spatula, or wipe down the board and wash the slotted spoon.

I Googled par-baking and saw that to par bake one reduced the cooking time by one quarter, so I undercooked most of these ready for the freezer so we can finish/heat them as needed.
Of course we had to have soft fresh bagels for a snack ... as soon as they were cool enough to eat. Home made are much much nicer, softer, chewier but not tough, fresher, just better :D

The other distraction from things-Christmas was crochet. A few weeks ago Poppy had her end of year ballet recital, and as parents of a Ballet-student we learned about Ballet-make up, Ballet-shoe polish, Ballet-costumes, Ballet-tights and the strict requirements for a quality durable ballet hairstyle - the Ballet-bun. Bobby pins, hair elastic and terribly terribly fragile hair nets to tidy away all the wispy bits. Poppy loved it .. and I do admit to practicing for several Saturdays and rehearsal nights to make sure I could put her hair in a bun, neatly and securely. I tore at least two of the nets, not expensive but a bother all the same. I wondered what happened to crochet bun nets, I remember them from my school days, on other girls for I was an Art-kid, not a Ballet-kid, and that prompted me into making one from some pretty yarn the cubs had for learning to knit with.

Christmas still looms but we have all been 'on-leave' this week, we spent today at the Christmas farmers market, a special mid week market .. where there were fresh berries, and goodies galore. This year feels more relaxed than it should - perhaps I have forgotten something? I hope not. There are still cub-prezzies to dig out and wrap (Bear and I have been squirreling things away in odd corners for a few months now), there are parcels arriving by post [- although only half of one of Bears gifts is here ... grrrr back-orders, but I ordered him two of something .. so he will at least have one] .

Take care, may the holiday be a relaxed and trouble free event, and I hope the sun shines unless you really really want/need/like snow.
na Stella

Saturday, December 19, 2009

Crafting and thinking about art and craft

Today, well all week really I've been thinking about Art (capital A) and Craft (capital C), and that void that people put between the two practices - there is a more in-depth discussion at the end of the post. I've also been knitting, and have two (or is that four?) finished objects, all probably craft ... I'll explain why, and I'm finally Whispering.

First up finished objects, this post I have 2 pair, so four finished objects, Bears Socks, all done. Details, cast on 7th November 2009, finished 17th December 2009. Yarn is Vintage Purls Sock in Westerwald, pattern is a modified toe up version of my own devising of Nancy Bush's Gentlemans sock with Lozenge pattern. I did change the cuff to a 1x1 rib growing out of the lozenge pattern, stretchy bind of, last knit row was rib in pattern but m1 every 3rd stitch, cast off on next row. I also worked the heel flap in eye-of-partridge-stitch. What would I do different next time? Not much but I'd work the lozenge into the toe area earlier .. ..Its craft - I followed a pattern, inspired by something .... I'm not engaging anyone on an intellectual level in these at all.

Japanese Room Shoes, well the original looked a whole lot more stylish than my version. When working domino squares that build into a garment I found it hard to envisage how the shapes and colours would build into the finished item. Obviously the knitter in the book already learned that if all the tips of the domino squares finished in the same colour .. well ones Room shoes look more elfish than stylish. I now know that as well. Other than that I'm pleased, these fit, are soft and comfortable, are firm enough around the top to fit well, and light enough to wear when felted clogs seem to warm. details, pattern by Kotomi Hayashi, in Nordic Knitting Ten Fabulous Techniques. Yarn
New Lanark Donegal Silk Tweed Aran all but a few meters of the skein, and 8 ply Millspun merino angora Nylon I had dyed. Needles 5mm, construction details in last blog post - trips thru the washing machine two. These also are craft ... practical, applied, nothing intellectual going on here appart from my deepening understanding and respect for the arrangement of colours in domino knitting by master domino knitters.

With those two projects out of the way I felt ready to start Whisper cardigan. I've splurged and bought Malabrigo lace weight, a fine felted unbelievably soft as soft yarn, to knit this in. I made a start on the sleeve, and knit, first with one magic loop circ and then with dpns. I found the fine yarn, the guage and the magic loop to tangly to knit the first rounds with so switched to dpns. Now I looooove dpns, double pointed needles, but I got ladders where the needles joined. I never get ladders .. ever, and nothing I tried made them go away, so I switched to circulars and got ladders, two this time not the four as when I knit with dpns .. but ladders all the same. Again nothing I tried and I tried a lot, needle positioning, yarn pulling, stitch tightening to the point the yarn threatened to break as I shifted the stitches along the needle .. nothing worked. Ok .. Whisper has got to come under craft as well .. I'm using the specified yarn and a pattern, minor modifications won't make it art.

I also began to wonder if the curling edge would as the designer promised 'block flat' .. for its seemed like all stocking stitch edges to want to curl.

I hunted down Whispers on Ravelry - particularly ones knit in Malabrigo lace .. and found my problem was not unique .. and the solution seemed to be a 16" or 40 cm circular. My local Dealer came to the rescue and provided one, even though she had none listed on site. I also queried those knitters of Whisper in Malabrigo about the sleeve edge curling .. appears it will steam block flat for about 3 wears .. and then need blocking again, and many many many knitters have added a garter border to flatten the edge. So I frogged the 22 cm I had knit, not easy in a lace weight single, I cast on again, and this time worked the first four rounds as double knit ...

looks promising, no curl and no ladders. The double knit edge I had thought would be a less shear version of the knit fabric, but looks more like a flat rib .. I'm a little in denial about how to replicate this on the other sleeve as a cast off. Worst case scenario is that I try a sewn bind off (might not match exactly as this was a twisted long tail cast on) .... or I knit another hem and graft it to the sleeve to make them both the same. the wee brass tool is a knit counter, a gift from M, she had several. It works just like those whizzy new applications for ipods to track rows and decreases and stitch counts. You know .. old technology works just as well some times and never gets a flat battery.

Which leaves only the discussion about Art, and Craft, one of the Take-back-the-knit Thursday night crocheters, Elspeth has an installation at the Blue Oyster Gallery. As part of that there was a screening of Handmade Nation, which was excellent, and following that a discussion about Art and Craft. I was asked to help guide/chair the discussion .. along with Christine Keller current Head of Textiles at Otago Polytechnics Art School. Unfortunately the cubs had their end of school year prize-giving .. and I was only able to stay for 30 minutes of the discussion. I'm not sure we as a group were all on the same page, the movie is a documentary about indi-makers all with very different products and processes .. who sell their wares - I suspect with the exception of a one or possibly two .. most of those there were crafters of a non-commercial nature, personal not professional Craftsters( are there ever Artsers?). I can't claim to the definitive definition of Art vs Craft .. my understanding is fluid - anything you post as a comment is likely to modify my stance. At the black and white - no argument, no grey areas, global overview end of the spectrum of my understanding, Art engages at an intellectual level and Craft engages at a practical level. That said, nothing is black and white, even zebras are more of a dark brown grey and off-white .. and engagement both is by the viewer and the maker/artists/craftsperson so what engages me may not engage you. I was struck by a comment that K made, that for much of humans history there has been no distinction, people made things, useful and beautiful things and they were used, rugs kept the floor warm, coats kept the body warm and provided indications of rank or status, or wealth, tapestries and weaving blocked drafts and pleased the eye, paintings provided visual decoration and captured memories or stories .... and it was all good (or at times I suspect bad), neither art nor craft, but both. All engaged at a physical and intellectual level, there was no distinction, some people made stuff that was held up as cleverer, or more beautiful or more innovative .. just like now. I also had a memory of interviewing my maternal Grandmother, who said repeatedly, and in many many different ways 'Oh yes I made this, I learned how to make those, I would save up all of that and make ... and then we had enough money that I didn't have to do that any more.' For her crafting had a very different role than it does for me, she crafted so she could have, have things that she needed but could not afford, have things that she could craft for less than she could buy them for, craft better quality than could be bought .. all so the meager family funds would go further, last longer. And while she did keep knitting knee rugs and bed socks for 'old people' well into her 90's she continually expressed the pleasure that she no longer had to craft to make ends meet.

I am, I think, honestly aware that for me crafting provides several benefits, a creative outlet, a space outside work and family that is mine to play in, a social connection online and locally, a focus for new learning and developing, a way to have things that are unique, craft lets me 'give away my time and energy and love' in gifts, and to have at times better quality than I can afford, but above all it has more in common with comfortable womenfolk of old who filled their leisure time with needlepoint and lace and other activity that did not to earn money ... but to fill leisure time. There were a whole 'nother level of makers who made and sold wares because they had to to support the family budget and I'm not one of those - nor I suspect are most modern crafters. I doubt many today craft because they 'have to else they would starve'.

I was slightly disappointed at one thread that surfaced in the documentary and was echoed in the discussion before I left ... that tertiary education no longer teaches people the practical knowledge of old. There were cries of 'no one teaches tailoring (excuse me I do!), no one teaches a particular style of printmaking, no one teaches these nearly lost skills and because of that it will all soon be lost. Rubbish! Tertiary education can only ever provide the basics of intellectual and practical/applied knowledge in a discipline, and then give students the encouragement and space to further develop skills.

Sorry abut the rant .. and that leaves us where in the Art and Craft discussion? I am very happy that there are people starting to crave unique objects, that the movement that started way back before 1900 as the Arts and Crafts movement, exploring the role of the artisan maker, the educated craftsman, the rejection of a factory ethos, and mass production monstrosities, the preference for local materials, local inspiration, for education and for improvement (ok - they did fall short of several of their goals - show me a movement that achieved all their goals). I'm happy there is another groundswell of the ideas fostered as part of that Arts and Crafts movement .... and I'd love so see a bit more perspective of where Art-Craft sits in the social history of things.

Well to me ... its personal, I enjoy crafting, for me there is a practical and therapeutic and creative and luxury element to my crafting, and I am I think very honest in my acknowledgment of that. ... I come from a long line of practical people. My granddads loved to build, both did, boats one side of the family and furniture and wood turning the other. My parents both were applied practical people - Dad creatively solves mechanical problems, Mum made stuff. I recognized all people have creative tendencies, people crave novelty and tradition in different amounts, and that creativity can be via new fabric at big box suppliers like Spotlight, through making unique yarn with spinning, in making music, or writing novels, or dressing in the morning .. or through cooking or repairing engines, or finding new ways to teach or engage learners, or to explain the world of science, language, or peoples .. or making interesting items for domestic or gallery spaces .....

I understand that discussions around ideas are important .. to make us think about what we and others do .. but honestly at the end of the day Craft and Art .. unless we are subsistence farmers, art and or craft are wonderful luxuries that improve our lives .. and I'm happy to leave it there.

ok .. a little craft, some finished objects, a new project and my version of the whole art and craft debate in an nutshell ...
Edited 20th December 2009 to add ...and this completely sidesteps any mention of Design as a practice sitting alongside art and or craft practices ... or any positioning of creativity within art, design and or craft ....

na Stella

Tuesday, December 15, 2009

Lost in translation

Last weekend I got new books, two new books, Nordic knitting Seven Miraculous Techniques by and Nordic Knitting Ten fabulous techniques from Yes Asia. Like BookDepository the price on the site includes shipping - although its not fast shipping. I had seen Seven before, a work colleague bought it and shared it with me. I was impressed. As I was spending the last of my professional development funds at work on books - I decided that I needed both of these on my shelf for when I next taught the hand knitting elective next. Its odd - but in translation from one language to another, and from one set of aesthetics and traditions to another .. new and interesting variations often occur. As well as that - some things get lost, so today while I became enthralled by the Japanese translation of Nordic knitting - I also became totally lost by Japanese interpretations of Nordic knitting. I love the seemingly fresh approach to the often quite conservative and staid traditions of Nordic knitting that both these books show. Just the covers show it all - and inside there are cute variations on domino knitting, spiral scarves, string bags, sideways socks, stay put shawls/scarves, wristers knit in several different ways, beaded, crowned, with fluff trim, colour work spirals .. and slippers.

I had thought these books would be to file away .. ready to inspire students .. and me, but the slippers drew me back, and looked comfortable and attractive. So I did a little web-search and identified the needle and yarn size and stash dived for yarn. I had a single ball of New Lanark Donegal Silk Tweed Aran, a gift from Suzanne, one she shared after wining one of the Owls prizes. This yarn seemed luxurious and at the same time sturdy enough for hand knit slippers. I found a skein of Merino Angora Millspun that I had dyed teal blue that exactly matched the flecks in the Silk Tweed Aran -- so I was all set to cast on.

At first glance the pattern seemed complicated, so I sat down with note paper squares and assembled a paper copy of the slipper - once done I understood how it all worked and fitted. I cast on and knit, following the diagrams and using the numbers along side as my guide. The diagrams made it clear there were only 3 shapes to knit, A = a square, B = a square with a colored set in corner, and C - a triangle. Seemed straightforward.

Soon it looked just like the picture ..so I knit the triange and then I got confused. When I knit the triangle using the same domino knitting technique of the squares .. I didn't get a triangle, I got a square with a corner missing not the little triangle shown in the diagrams. I frogged and re-knit, and frogged and re-knit, I Googled the pattern for help, I found various sites with translations of the knitting symbols and set about translating .. not easy as only some of the characters in the book matched up with the ones on the sites, but I grew to understand that perhaps short rows were required.

I reworked it with short rows, again frogging and re-knitting until it looked sorta-right, but it wasn't like the diagram. I needed to know, wanted to know, if the diagram was true to life or used artistic license. If it was true to life, I wanted to know how to knit that.

I set aside that slipper, started its mate and visited Ravelry, especially Japanese Knitting and Crochet to ask for help. Help came in the form of Needlesyarngin who solved the riddle - yes short rows were required but also a 5 stitch increase to fill in the dip, followed by 5 rows of garter.

I returned to my second slipper and knit the fill in triangle with short rows and 5 increases to fill in the dip ... and yes! Now it looks like the diagram.

So I've measured them, 5.25" across, and 10" long, and they are now in the machine felting. My fingers are crossed .... they only need to shrink an inch .. much less than the Fibre Trends Clogs need to shrink.

I'm now officially on leave, and on my first day at home with no cubs .. I fibred (is that a word - feels like a word). Last weekend I dyed 100g merino and 25g nylon fibre, yesterday I hackled it into sock fibre.

What did I learn? That the process worked, that nylon will always dye lighter than the merino, that the hackle blends them together nicely, and that 125g of fibre, once hackled twice to blend it evenly yields only 71g. The loss is purely the trapping of the short fibres in the hackle as the fibre is drawn off. In the past I have drawn of nearly all the fibre, it is possible to clear the hackle of nearly all fibre. But ...to draw of all the fibre and increase the yield creates another problem, the last section of the drawn off sliver comprises only short fibres .. and spins up differently. So I put the blend away, and set about dying a larger batch that should yield 110-120g of sock yarn fibre. It was a warm sunny day and the front steps held enough heat to dry the fibre very fast .. and of course Yo-yo saw the fibre and the camera and came over for a look.

Today is the cubs last day of school .. so I'm off to 'afternoon tea' with some of the parents of Poppy's classmates, then we plan to all walk down to school, collect our cubs and take them home. Sounds like a nice way to end the school year.
Take care
na Stella

Saturday, December 12, 2009

Ladies a plate ..

A fairly common saying in New Zealand, although since the 1980's it more often changed to bring a plate. Now the request is not for a plate per se, or a plate, cup, spoon and cutlery as my US-migrant to New Zealand knit-sib Kelly once thought. K tells a hilarious story of thinking the hosts must have been so short of utensils and plates that she generously loaded up a basket with plates, knives, spoons, forks, tea towels, cups, glasses, salt, pepper ... enough for her brood and extras to share. Now this is where local blog readers will be quietly giggling .. and those not familiar with the odd customs of 'my country' New Zealand will be waiting for the punchline. *

For when they said a plate, they actually meant food, or a plate with food on it, and not for for oneself as I have seen some British migrants bring, a small plate with food for one, but the kind of food one can share. Quiche, sausage rolls, asparagus rolls, scones, biscuits, savory flan, some sort of baked slice ... and in a pinch shop bought crackers, cheese and dips. Saturday was the last KSG - knitters study group meeting of the year, and our year project was a tea cosy. We also had a bring-a-plate lunch, and so this being a tea cosy kind of old fashion I went I dressed for tea, I had a tea-dress, pale pantyhose, high heeled shoes, a ladylike hand bag, a hat and I even had my nails done. My plate? I work and knit and spin .. so regrettably it was something from the local bakery, a strawberry flan, I took my finished tea cosy - fitted on my tea pot. Before I went I recorded it with a photo for Ravelry .. and guess who turned up to the photo-shoot? Yes Yo-yo, the cat with the camera attraction.

There were nine tea cosys in all, plus a photo of one that had been posted away, but the ones that were there were all very creative*. The tiger-cosy was made for especially for warming Tiger tea, a major tea brand who painted large tigers over most of the local shops for much of the 20th Century. Once all kids in New Zealand could spot a diary miles away simply by recognizing the large painted tiger holding a steaming cuppa-tea - cup and saucer not a mug, now those shops are more likely to be coke or pepsi branded.

And here is the second video showing picking up and knitting an afterthought heel. I hope it shows the process well enough.

And the last video in the set, showing stitch grafting the heel closed, I didn't pull the grafting firm enough so had to tighten up the stitches one by one - with practice usually the stitches are a good match for the knitting they join, but if you finish grafting and see the grafted stitches are too loose or too tight, then it is a simple mater to tug each one into the right size. Make sure you work tightening from the opposite end to the grafting tail yarn, and loosening from the tail yarn end.

And lastly some images showing the weaving in, I know the video isn't quite clear enough to see the detail. One of the biggest unsolved problems with camera lens focus physics is the closer you are the less focus depth there is so things go blurry. With video its too hard to keep the focus in the right spot when knitting .. so still images can show more than movies.

I follow the path of a strand of yarn thru the knitting. First I draw the yarn thru two slightly offset purl bumps, then ...

turn the needle around and pass the thread back thru the next purl bump and thru the offset pump that was first threaded thru .... I know that sounds complicated but its like making a figure 8. I've left litle loops so you can see the path the yarn takes, I think the second to last images shows it best.

take care .. Socks are all done, and I' quite chuffed with how I flowed the slipped stitch diamonds into a 2x2 rib, I may have knit another pair in semi-solid yarn. And for the fact file, these socks were knit for an 8 year old girl from one 50g ball of sock yarn.

na Stella

* Ladies a plate is also the name of a cook book on sale, by Alexa Johnston, specializing in the kind of baking that the proud domestic goddesses of New Zealands history would fill their take-a-plate with.

* Edited 21st December 2009 - two photos, and a sentence or two have been removed from this post - so it may differ from when you first saw it.

Tuesday, December 08, 2009

Wednesday ...

...and I have a cold, didn't stop me from joining the knit gang and heading of on a pre-holiday mini road trip to the Milton Mill. I took a days leave, we car pooled .. and headed out with a knitters day out of mill rummaging, knitting, talking, and lunch. It was good, and surprisingly light on the pocket, for I returned with only 3 things ... $3.50 of fibre from the rummage bags at the back and 2 balls of yarn. My head cold was fought off temporarily with a decongestant and panadol - athough I did keep sniffing. One day I promise I'll photograph the Mill factory shop .. I planned to today, I took the camera, but forgot. At first glance its not that spectacular .. but there are bins of skeins, and shelves of cones, and cubbyholes of balls of yarn ... and out the back the 'sale table', with scraps or what they call mill-ends aka cones of singles and yarn, and mill-laps, aka scraps from the carding process, perfect for spinning. Which brings me to today's post, new yarn, some spinning done, a new project to tuck away for latter, and some knitting progress ... no not the tea cosy, its almost done. I just have the top-knot to work, but I feel it needs its first outing at the KSG 2009 tea-party .. next Saturday.

Up first, new yarn, is new for the mill, a possum, merino silk blend in a sport weight, we'd call it a 4-ply here in NZ. They only had two colours but perfect for colour work on a hat or a pair of girley mittens. As usual the Mill band is basic, with no indication of what the fibre blend is ... they really could do with some marketing help, without the cardboard tag above the cubby we never would have spotted the luxury details of the blend. The spin fibre .. well I can't show you as some is destined for my NZFW 3.0 swap .. so its secret for now. But I did bring the scrap home and hacked it ready for spinning.

I've been spinning recently, well plying, I finished the 4th bobbin of dark beautiful Polwarth fibre from FFF, and spent last night plying it. I love this fibre, it is soft and bouncy and light as a feather. I've got 100+g and 218m more or less. Its not quite dry ... so its hard to say. I do have to say the more plies .. the more even the resultant yarn - I'm a convert to plying up. I've got an equal amount of this fibre in off white and while I had planned to try and spin the white into a finer yarn, now I think it might make a fantastic shawl, with a pale centre and darker edge.

This week it has been mail box days, in that the contents of the mail box were interesting and fun. Yesterday the latest Spinoff and the IW Knits arrived which went with me to Milton and were shared as we ate. I'm not sure I'll renew my IWK subscription .. there is a whole lot of unflattering projects featured ... and this issue is no different. Its hard to justify the price just for the technical info which, lets be frank, a lot of that can be found on line, or in books. Magazines have a cycle, I've noticed it in photography and sewing and other craft magazines. They cycle through a lot of the same content, how to for beginners, techniques and inspiration .. through to content for more experienced practitioners, and after a few years you see the same info represented in a new way. Spin off is a whole different story .. either there is more development and innovation in the spin world, or I'm still such a newbie that its all still interesting. Then Bear arrived home just now with a copy of Filati which looks like it is a European elegant knitting magazine. Oh there are a few long knit coats but there looks to be some interesting ideas in side the covers - I've not delved to deep so don't rush off and buy one on my brief review. Any way .. in today's mail box was a pattern for EZ's Green Sweater! Yes I spurged and bought the pattern.

Lastly ...sock knitting, with all the tripping, magazine reading and plying not much socking has been going on. Today Poppy's afterthoughts travelled with me in the back seat where I knit, and they joined me at lunch where I knit. I've continued the slip stitch pattern around the whole leg, eventually the pattern will start just above the heel. The waste yarn row of stitches is perhaps clearer here - the green.

That is my half week to date. Tonight I'll either sort out the next spin project or knit more on the afterthought sock ...I've got 3 more work days, full back to back of planning meetings, before I'm on leave and that leave sounds sooooooo goooood right now.

take care
na stella

Saturday, December 05, 2009


Today - its the afterthought heel video I promised, there has been knitting, the tea cosy is coming along nicely, I've been sewing, Pops has a new skirt as do I (but no photos), and spinning.
But first a video tutorial Step One in creating an afterthought heel in a sock especially for AnneofBlueGables - although I suspect her sock is well past needing this. Afterthought heels are neat and tidy and usually created with short rows .. and super-knitters like Elizabeth Zimmerman would bravely snip a thread, pull a few stitches, needle up and insert the heel. More timid knitters like to use a foundation of waste yarn stitches as a placeholder, and knit this in when the sock is a few inches shy of the foot length. Waste yarn makes for fewer ends to weave in - a good thing in my book.

My tea cosy is on track - and should be all done by the tea-party next weekend. It has turned out, I think - its not done yet so I'm predicting, a little firm for my large red teapot and a little short for my tall white tea pot - so I plan to undo the 6 or so rows of decreases and re-work the first side a little longer. The black and white should look really good with the white teapot, but the red tea pot is the one we use the most. That has a mesh tea leave basket, removable, which allows us to lift the leaves out and prevents over-brewed stewed tea. I do have plans to knit a suitable cosy for that pot, seamless and double knitting with a little help from Suzanne. Funny but now I've come around to this tea pot idea, I'm all enthusiastic - no longer reluctant - odd how experiencing a success will change ones mind. My only remaining unknown here is what will I bring for the tea-time style shared lunch? I do have my tea at the Ritz book out and have lots of ideas .. but it needs to be something that will suit most (gluten free?), and that is achievable within work and weekend and knit night obligations.

Spinning, I've been spinning two different but similar yarns. I'm attempting lace weight - and I'm not quite there yet but my latest spinning is better than I expected it to be. I had sampled lace weight - but found I couldn't consistently spin the singles as fine as I had when I sampled them. As I spun I wondered what sort of mess I would end up with ... there seemed to be a great deal of variation. Predictably when plying one bobbin ran empty a good deal before the other. I broke of the singles and wound some from one bobbin to the other and plied the rest. After a warm soak and a dry its better than expected .... look! Yes the plies vary from thin to thicker - but overall the yarn seems fairly consistent. This was hand dyed merino combed top which I split in two lengthwise and spun using a fractual approach - and the resultant yarn is complex in colour to look at without any obvious repeats. I like this - like this a lot. I did end up with fine yarn - fingering, 100g with around 410m so that is probably a fair attempt at lace weight from a relative newbie. I've only been spinning a year - or is that two years? Not long enough to feel in control of it, and new enough to be pleased whenever the result is near what I wanted and knitable. The other yarn was to be spun as fine, and plied as a four ply .. and the plies are not as fine as I sampled - so who knows what weight I'll end up with. I know that four ply is not as thick as the four plies .. so it will be interesting to see the result. I'm just about to start the fourth bobbin. One other responsibility recently has been the organizing of the New Zealand Fibre Swap 3.0 on Ravelry and the post dates are next week ... so I'd like to have both wheels clear ready for whatever yummy goodness arrives in my mail box. I've been having fun recently finding, making, packaging up and sending off things to spinners and knitters local and further afield.

so .. next week is the last full week of work for me before Christmas, here is the the start of the summer holidays .. so the cubs and I stop work in a week and a half. Then there is a 5 or 6 week holiday (longer for the cubs) ... and I do admit that whilst there is a lot to sort and plan and file before I go on leave .. part of me is aware of the soon to be holiday and waiting for time of my own.

take care
na Stella

Tuesday, December 01, 2009

Time for tea?

Today ... its a 'lite' post, all about a tea cosy, and bags. First the cosy, I belong to a Knitters Study Group, we meet every five weeks during the year for a 3 hour class on various knitting techniques. And every year there is a recommended project, this year I'm doing my best to participate fully, and be one of the team players,

Last year the Knitters Study Group project was a vest. We were all asked to work on a vest and bring it for show and tell for the December meeting. Early in that year I did a lot of researching and thought I'd knit a EJ vest - Deep V Arglye in particular, I even bought the pattern, but it didn't happen. I had other things I wanted to make faster, sooner, and the yarn had to be ordered from overseas .. and well it just fell off the things-to-do list. Truth is I'm probably one of 'those' knitters, or even more honestly one of 'those' people, the ones who don't like to be told what to do. Oh if there is a burning building and some one yells fire - I'm on my way out the fire exit, if its a nice meal and some one says don't wait - start, I have no problem with that. But when its my hobby, and my time, and my interest ... well I'd rather knit what I want to knit. This year the group project is a tea-cosy, and its December, can you see where this is going. Just like last year I did a lot of research - I got Killer Tea Cosy's out of the local library (my favorite was the one in the form of a large tea bag complete with string and tag) - but the majority were sewn not knit. I Googled tea cosys, and project/pattern searched Ravelry for tea cosys. I found a few stylish ones .. but some how they never got knit. Odd really as we like our tea, and we use a pot - several in fact, and cold tea is abhorrent. Long story short, I've finally knuckled down and started my tea cosy - with less than one and half weeks until the tea party - I feel like a naughty student craming and swotting just before the final exam.

So these past few days I've hunted, and selected and cast on, and rejected and frogged, and hunted and selected and cast on and rejected again and again. For some confused reason I wanted to knit the tea cosy in the round, and I wanted it colour work, for the thickness it would give, the added insulation. Let me explain, I wanted it in the round - because that is what intelligent knitters do - they knit in the round when the thing they are knitting for is round - and tea pots are round. And yet ..all the patterns I liked were knit flat, they were from an era where needles were straight and knitting was flat and seamed. I converted them to the round and tried an i-cord cast on and double knitting in the form of a checkerboard .. but knowing I'd have to steek the handle and spout openings and that they would be bulky worried me. I frogged that version.
Then a moment of clarity - I realized that sometimes flat is ok, in fact sometimes its best .. and two tiny seams either side of the handle and spout were nothing to be ashamed of. So I revised my favorite tea cosy list on Ravelry, and found Tea cosy by Yasmin. Its free, the pattern has history - her Nan knit it, its thick and is worked with two colours and stranded - sort of. That is where it gets interesting, its stranded tightly, breaking all the rules of standard stranded colour work knitting, the strands are pulled so tight the fabric puckers up into insulating corrugations. I love it! Stranded distortions - deliberate stranded distortions.

...and I've been sewing, stitching not knitting. I've made another batch of bags, in 100% cotton needle cord, soft and velvety and fun. Now this wouldn't suit trousers but it is perfect for little project bags. Ngaire picked the fabric from the fabric stash, ask for a bag that would take 2x50g cakes of sock yarn, and requested something fun on the inside,

I hope I have not disappointed ... a mock 1950's circle print - Op-art or is that Pop art?
I might just have to keep one for me:D

Take care - knitting next post I promise even if only my tea-cosy home work.

take care
na Stella

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Socks, socks and a dress

Today, I've got some sock progress (both pair), and I've not done much other knitting because I was distracted by dying and dressmaking. That means I've got non-knitting content to report, I scored some really really cute and perfect fabric for my Poppy so whipped up a little summer number for my Pop, and I've dyed two lots of fibre, one worked the other I'm not so sure, well its worked but do I like it? I'm not sure - but I'll show, what is the point of hiding the mistakes?

First up socks, I've worked Poppy's afterthought heel sock right up to where the waste yarn needs to be knitted into mark the heel. I'm planning to video this one, so will park it on hold until my camera-bear is able to record that process. Unfortunately that might be next weekend, unless we have nice light one night this week - and we both remember.

Bears new socks developed a little more this week, I finally cast on for the second sock and worked a good way up the foot. So far so good, except it had been a good while since I knit the first toe that I forgot the increase placement was 2 stitches in on each side and worked these ones 1 stitch in ... no one will know except you and I, and maybe Bear if he is paying attention.

Poppy got a new dress this week, the fabric was some one of our 2nd year students used as toile fabric for her last design project. I mentioned my daughter was called Poppy and asked her where she bought the fabric and she named a shop out of town but offered to give me the unused fabric. I negotiated a fair swap using our standard school currency - a block of chocolate and took her up on the offer.

I used the same pattern as for Poppy's last dress, sleeveless, empire line and flared skirt, but added pouch pockets, faced at the top and gathered in with elastic just so all her dresses don't end up looking the same. I did have to buy a white zip .. but other than that it came in at the cost of a block of chocolate. Now all she needs is a return of the hot sunny weather to give the opportunity to wear it, the last few days have been decidedly cooler, too cool for a sleeveless sundress. Bear thinks it would work with a black long sleeved merino top and black tights and shoes, except that she doesn't have a black long sleeved merino top.

At the Milton open day I picked up 500g of combed carded white merino - with the aim of playing with dye. Reading Pat Olds new book, In a Spin fired up my enthusiasm again as she provided details of a no-felt, no mess method for dying sliver. The method contains all the dye mess in a plastic bag and then the fibre is boiled-in-the-bag, which really cuts down on the agitation and potential for felting. The other interesting thing about Pat's method is she suggests applying dye to dry fibre, with a wetting agent - the opposite of most methods I've read or seen online. I liked it, this is an inky blue purple blend, which had me all encouraged to try another.

...which didn't work quite as I had hoped. I know I had too little dye in the pot, and the plastic bag burst so I was a little anxious about it simmering. I removed it prematurely and as a result got a candyfloss pink mixed with pale amber and apricot. I was aiming for orange and medium grey - which it is not. Its pretty but its not what I would choose to spin - there is 150g. This is a mixture of penedale, alpaca and angora so will spin up with a fluffy halo - ideal for this colour perhaps but I am tempted to overdye it .. but no hurry.

I've already sorted the next fabric for the next sewing project, its not the summer dress for moi I still have planned, I've got to make the pattern for that one or at least modify the pattern for the last dress I made a little so it suits the fabric better. With any luck I'll have time at work this week during my lunch times to work on that, I love to use the large cutting and pattern making tables there, so much more space than the dining room table it just makes it easier. I still have to tidy up just like at home, I'm getting better at that. This is bag fabric .. and its fun, it makes me smile.

Take care
na Stella