Archive for October, 2009

Hallowe’en Knitting

Saturday, October 31st, 2009

Are you scared of spiders?

are you scared??

are you scared??

These spiders make silk that has been spun and woven into an amazing cloth which is on display at the American Museum of Natural History. My friend sent me this interesting article today.

Hallowe’en is a day where all is not as it seems. The same can be said about projects using the technique of illusion knitting. My first illusion knitting project was the counterpoint scarf {Ravelink} that I knit for my good friend GS, a music major. When viewed from above, it looks like a black and white striped scarf, but when viewed on an angle, the combination of ridges knit and purled into the scarf show a different design. The counterpoint scarf shows a piano keyboard, but you can make any two colour design into an illusion pattern. The scarf was such a big hit, that he commissioned me to knit two more for his friends.

counterpoint scarf

counterpoint scarf

In the spirit of Hallowe’en, I’m going to explain how to make a pumpkin design into an illusion knitting design. All it takes is some graph paper, and coloured pencils, or an excel spreadsheet (for the high-tech knitter).

SPOILER ALERT!!! If you prefer to be mystified by these illusions, do NOT scroll down. Detailed instructions of how to make your own illusions are presented below.

Step 1: Draw your design on the grid.

pumpkin chart

pumpkin chart

Step 2: Draw your design, but this time stretch it vertically by adding 3 blank rows between each existing row.

stretched pumpkin

stretched pumpkin

Step 3: Move all orange (contrasting colour) squares up two rows.

illusion pumpkin

illusion pumpkin

How to read this pattern: Main colour is yellow, contrasting colour is orange.

The pattern is knit in 2 row chunks of colour. The first row of any colour is always knit. The second row of the colour is knit only when the chart indicates the colour, blank squares in the second row are purled. This makes a coloured ridge to match the pattern on the right side of the work.

The first 10 rows of the pattern chart would be written out as follows

Row 1: MC K

Row 2: MC K (forms a MC ridge on right side of work)

Row 3: CC K

Row 4: CC P5,K7,P5

Row 5: MC K

Row 6: MC K5,P7,K5

Row 7: CC K

Row 8: CC P3,K11,P3

Row 9: MC K

Row 10: MC K3,P11,K3

etc.

Once you understand the technique, you can design illusion knitting for scarves, mittens, socks, and cushion covers. Remember though, the design will be 4 times as long as it appears on your original grid. Be careful though, if knitting in the round, the second row coloured squares will need to be purled to form the ridge needed for the illusion.

Now, go forth and mystify your friends!

Happy Hallowe’en!

Captain’s Socks

Friday, October 30th, 2009
feluccas on the Nile, Aswan Egypt

feluccas on the Nile, Aswan Egypt

This summer I went on an intrepid adventure to the middle east. I visited Jordan and Egypt, saw wonders of the world, and experienced the best of middle eastern hospitality. On a particularly hot day in Aswan Egypt, CM (my travel buddy) and I negotiated a great price for a boat ride on a felucca (a sail boat historically used for ferrying goods, but now ferries tourists). We ended up having such a wonderful time with Captain Hamada and his teenage brother Ali, that we went back the next day, and then the day after that we set sail with them on a 4 day trip. We helped out on the boat with tea making, veggie chopping, dish washing, and deck wiping. We both learned how to steer the boat, but CM took to it more than I did, and earned a fake Felucca Captain License. I earned a fake Crew License. We had many adventures including swimming in the Nile on the end of a rope (it’s harder than it sounds to wash your hair while hanging on to the soap and the rope!) We saw many donkeys and water buffalo, we learned to fish, we walked through several Nubian villages, and were told that we were the colour of cheese (which is apparently a compliment).

To commemorate our journey, and to celebrate CM’s birthday, I knit her a pair of Captain Socks out of odds and ends of different sock yarns from my stash.

captain socks

captain socks

Note the Jamaican flag on the boat. Hamada seemed to be a fan of Bob Marley and all things Jamaican.

felucca

felucca

The socks were knit from the cuff down. The yellow (sand) and green (plants) were knit in stripes, and the topography was augmented with duplicate stitch to make the landscape look more realistic. The felucca was done in duplicate stitch also, with french knots for Hamada, Ali, CM and me.

Nubian houses are blue

Nubian houses are blue

Hamada pointed out to us some Nubian houses on the shore of the Nile. He told us that Nubian houses are blue. We asked why Nubian houses are blue, expecting some cultural reason as a reply. He looked at us with a smile, and said “Nubians like blue”. I’m not sure if that is true of all Nubians, but the houses were pretty.

donkey and boat man

donkey and boat man

We saw many donkeys along the Nile during our 4 days, and although we had heard them make their funny noises, this was the first time for us to see how they actually do it. The rapid expansion and contraction of their rib cage forcing air though their throat with their mouth wide open was enough to set us giggling every time! Sometimes the beasts near the water were not donkeys, but water buffalo. The owners of these creatures would often ferry reeds from one part of the Nile to feed their buffalo. This photo shows my impression of such a boat man rowing reeds to feed his animal.

swimming in the Nile

swimming in the Nile

This sock shows CM and I swimming in the Nile on the rope. Ali would often be our lifeguard, making sure we were hanging on to the rope. The Nile is a really cold fast flowing river, and we were swimming when the felucca was under sail. Hamada would occasionally yell “I’m tacking!” and he’d rapidly move the rudder to change direction and keep wind in the sails, but that would essentially leave us playing crack-the-whip, holding on for dear life on the end of the rope. We were glad that Ali was there to look out for us.

If you are ever in Aswan Egypt, ask for Hamada and Ali on the felucca “Flower 2″, and go for a ride. They are the boat with the Jamaican flag, and maybe Canadian flags too (if my mail ever got to them). Get them to cook you Bolti fish–it was the best food we had in Egypt!

My friend CM is in Belgium now; hopefully these Captain Socks will keep her warm with the memories of rash decisions and felucca adventures. Cheers Captain!

Knitting Olympics

Thursday, October 29th, 2009
Olympic Torch

The Flame is in Canada

As the Olympic torch gets handed to Canada today, it is making me look ahead to the upcoming Olympic games.  I’m getting antsy, trying to choose an epic project for the Knitting Olympics.  I missed the boat in 2006, but have been in training since then.  I have already competed for Team Canada in the Ravelympics (for summer sports) in the events of “Fleece-to-Finished Fencing”, “Handspun Heptathalon”, “Mitten Medley” and “Hat Dash”.

It was the first time I’d taken a project from the dirty sheep fleece to the finished product, and when I told people about my Olympic challenge they responded with comments like “That’s pretty cool” or “I’ve never thought of doing that” or more commonly “You know…you can buy wool in a store these days”.  There is something special about making a project from scratch–taking fleece that was going to be thrown out, and with my own hands, transforming it into something useful, and quite beautiful.

It all started out like this:

Raw Fleece in the Grease

Raw Fleece in the Grease

I chose to use the white fleece (in the garbage bag) because it would give me a chance to experiment with natual dying.  I’m not sure what breed of sheep this is from, but I do know that this fleece was complete with vegetable matter (grass) and waste (sheep excrement) and grease (lanolin).

washing fleece

washing fleece

I put the fleece in my bathtub full of warm water.  I added cleanser (with a slightly acidic pH) to the water and let the dirt/waste settle out.  I drained the water several times until it stayed clear.  If you try this at home, be sure you have a filter screen on your bathtub drain–washing fleece can lead to drain clogging hairballs.

fleece drying on my balcony

fleece drying on my balcony

hanging to dry

hanging to dry

It took a day in the sunshine to dry the fleece.  I learned quickly that as fleece dries, small pieces are sometimes carried off in the breeze.  I wonder what my downstairs neighbours thought when they saw floating fleece from their balconies!

warm dry fluffy fleece

warm dry fluffy fleece

I put the dry fleece in a box, ready to start carding and spinning when the Olympics started.  I got up ridiculously early to catch the ceremonies live in Beijing.  I was kept company by my new drum carder and my spinning wheel.

and it begins

and it begins

I purchased this drum carder on E-Bay, and it works pretty well.  Some of the pieces need small repairs, but it still works much better than hand cards.  I injured my wrists carding wool with hand cards when I took up spinning, and it took 6 months before I could bear weight on them.  Good excuse not to do push-ups!  The drum carder has made fleece processing much more enjoyable.  It allows for blending of fibers or colours to create very fun variagated batts.

drum carder in action

drum carder in action

I carded through the opening ceremonies with a BIG cup of tea to keep me going.  I then started to spin a bobbin of singles, and then Navajo plied them to make a bobbin of 3 ply yarn.

bobbin 1

bobbin 1

I wound and tied the yarn into a skein on my niddy-noddy and then washed it to allow the yarn to bloom.  It is amazing how a good soak will even out the tension of the plied yarn.  The additional soaking helps to eliminate more dirt and vegetable matter.  If warm water and cleanser are used, more lanolin will be removed, and the wool will stop feeling greasy.  I’ve washed yarn in cool water before to preserve the lanolin for effect.  Wearing lanolin-laden mittens is a sure way to soften and smooth hands.  Processing the fleece and knitting with it is nice on the hands as well.

skein 1 drying

skein 1 drying

Skein 1 was put out to dry.  Some neighbours were out on balconies at this point, and started yelling out questions at me….Most were genuinely curious, asking what I was up to.  Others yelled to me that they learned to knit when they were young, or that they knew someone who used to spin.  Of course there were others with the smart comment about how it would be easier to go buy wool at the store.

dyed with onions

dyed with onions

The prospect of spinning white fleece for the duration of the Olympics, and then knitting mittens and a hat out of white fleece was starting to sound boring.  I had heard that it is possible to dye fleece with different plants, so I took on an extra challenge to experiment with local vegetation and see what colours I could produce.  Dying with onions gave me the best result.  I carded the fleece and divided up the batt into pieces.  I had been collecting the outer skins of onions for a while, waiting for this experiment.  I boiled a big pot of water, and added the onion skins to it.  I put the fleece into a mesh bag, suitable for washing delicates in the machine.  This keeps the onion skins and the fleece separate.  You do NOT want to add any extra vegetable matter into your fleece!  The water should be kept warm/hot, but not boiling as you do not want to agitate the wool and cause it to felt.

The onion skins left the wool a warm golden colour.

So…..that made me wonder….what else could I dye with?

naturally dyed wool

naturally dyed wool

I got to spinning, and over the next days I spun many small skeins of white wool, and dyed them on the stove with a variety of plants.  The orange was a result of using beets.  You’d expect beets to produce a lovely red colour, but it is a very fugitive dye, and this colour weakened over time.  The yellows came mostly from golden rod flowers, the greens were experiments with red onion skins, and red cabbage, dyed in an alkaline dye bath with a copper scrubbie in the pot.  I tried using tea and coffee as well as sumac.  I’m not sure if it is worth all the effort, but it’s nice to know that it is possible to do, and I was intrigued by the range of colours that I could achieve from locally sourced plants.

Note:  For the chemistry fans out there, different cations will cause the dye to “take” in different ways.  Alum (aluminum) tends to brighten colours, Copper (from the pot, or the addition of a copper scrubbie) tends to make the greens come out well, Iron (from the pot, or natually existing in the water) tends to “sadden” the colour to make it duller.  Also, the pH of the dye bath will affect the colour with acidic dye baths producing warmer more orange colours, and the alkaline dye bath produces a more green colour.  So, not only are you dealing with the variable of the dye plant, the local tap water, the pot you are using, the mordant (ions added to help the dye “take” in different ways), you are also dealing with additives of vinegar or ammonia.  I kept a detailed notebook with samples, but I am not sure that my experiment could ever be reliable.

Back to the project…

mitten 1

mitten 1

I knit the cuff from the 3 ply white yarn, and knit the rest of the mitten out of a 3 ply yarn (1 ply onion dyed, 2 ply white).  It is my basic mitten pattern, made to fit a man’s hand.

finished mitts and hat

finished mitts and hat

I knit the hat to match with the white fold up brim, and a cabled rib pattern toward the crown.  I was impressed with how smooth the finish product ended up.  The mittens feel silky, and not scratchy.  The hat feels more scratchy, but I think that’s just because the back of the neck is more sensitive to that kind of thing.  I was impressed with myself getting the hat and mitts made from that big pile of stinky fleece.  I finished in time too!  Gold medal for me!

Mittens 101

Wednesday, October 28th, 2009

I was asked today by Ms. B for a lesson on knitting basic mittens.  It’s something that I do now without really thinking–Each pair of mittens I make are unique!  I try my best to keep each pair a matched set, but sometimes that requires me to knit them both without allowing much time to lapse!

These mittens are knit from my handspun (using K2 P2 ribbing instead of K1 P1 as stated in my recipe).  The fleece was dyed at the beginning of the relay for life event at school.  Colours are cherry, grape, and blue raspberry Kool-Aid.  I used a salad spinner to remove the water quickly, and spun the wool over night.  One ply is pink/red, the other is blue/purple. I stayed up all night spinning this yarn–my contribution to “being active”.  Wearing them brings back the memories of the evening and the nice company on our “Captain Awesome and the Time Travellers” team

Skills required: casting on, knitting, purling, increasing, decreasing, knitting in the round on double pointed needles (DPNs), kitchener stitch

Materials required:

  • 4 DPNs size 4mm (or size 4 which are 3.5mm…close enough!)
  • 100g aran weight yarn (one or more colours)
  • scrap of yarn to hold the thumb stitches

Abbreviations:

  • K1=knit one
  • P1=purl one
  • M1=make one (increase)
  • K2tog=knit two together
  • SSK=slip slip knit Slip one stitch, then slip the next. Insert left needle into the front loops of the slipped stitches and knit them together from this position (through the back loops)

CUFF

Cast on 48 sts. Join in the round. Knit 2-3 inches of ribbing (K1 P1)

GUSSET

Row 1: K1, P1, K1, P1, K to end of round. (this forms the gusset. Increases will happen between the purl stitches)

Row 2: K1, P1, M1, K1, M1, P1, K to end of round (50 sts)

maintaining the columns of purl stitches, increase 2 sts between the purl sts every alternate row until there are 15 sts in the gusset.

try on the mitten. Note the distance to the start of your thumb (0.5-1 inch). Knit the remaining rows maintaining the purl sts, but without more increases.

Place the 15 gusset sts. on a piece of scrap yarn, and with the working yarn cast on 4 sts to cover the thumb hole.

BODY OF MITTEN

Knit in the round until the mitten is long enough to just cover your baby finger (about 4 inches)

DECREASES

Set up: Arrange the sts so that the palm sts (half of the total number of sts) are on one needle, and the other sts are divided equally between needle 2 and 3. Be sure that the thumb hole is located at one side of the palm.

Decrease 4 sts (1 st. at both ends of needle 1, and beginning of needle 2 and end of needle 3) on every alternate row. Use SSK for decreases slanting up to the left, and K2tog for decreases slanting up to the right.

When 10 sts remain, use kitchener stitch to close the top neatly.

THUMB

Pick up and knit 15 sts from scrap yarn, 1 st from the gap, 4 cast on sts, and 1 st from the gap (21 sts).

Knit in round for 1.5 inches.

Decrease (K2 tog, K1) around until there are around 6 sts. remaining. Break yarn, thread through remaining sts.

FINISHING

weave in ends.

NOTES: at any point, you can change colours to make stripes, or knit a colourwork pattern. Be sure that floats (yarn hanging behind other stitches when you are using 2 colours) are not longer than 5 sts or you may catch thumbs and fingers on them when you try on the mitten.

mittens

Kingyo!

Tuesday, October 27th, 2009

Like most knitters I’ve usually got several projects on the go.  I’m not sure what it is that causes some projects to get finished faster.  I’m sure it is a combination of several factors: needle size, number of stitches, impending deadline, or my energy, enthusiasm, and level of concentration.  Sometimes though, it is the more complicated finer gauge projects that grab my attention and seem to almost knit themselves.  One such project is the Kissing Koi {ravelink} mittens by Ravelry’s badlydrawndee.  I have cast on a pair in black and orange, just like her picture.

I’m knitting with Sisu yarn for the first time.  I’ve been told that it is a hard wearing yarn that knits up similar to Kroy.  I am also trying out a new set of DPNs for this pattern, they are 2.0mm bamboo, and I’m not so keen on how flexible they are.  I know that many people love that aspect of the bamboo needles, but I guess I’m a vigorous knitter–one needle broke halfway through the first mitten.  Thank goodness they come in packages of 5!  I’ve been more careful on mitten number 2.  I think I’ll go back to my metal DPNs after this pair.  (I have tried knitting socks and mittens on circular needles and it drives me absolutely up the wall!)

I cast on for these mittens late at night, after finishing the second pair of poetry mittens.  I knit the cuff, all the while getting more and more excited about the fish pattern.  I tried on the cuff, and it fit well around my wrist.  I knit the second layer of the cuff, joined it all together and tried it on again…still good!  Then the complex pattern started.  I knit away, eagerly waiting for bubbles and fish scales to appear.  When it came time to put in the thumb, I tried it on again.  The width of the mitten was great, but I began to wonder about the length of the mitten from thumb to cuff.  I do enjoy long cuffs!  With this style of mitten, the thumb is knit after the mitten is finished, but there is no hole left for your thumb while you’re working, so my style of knit-to-fit doesn’t work so well.  This mitten is very small for me!  I looked back at the pattern, and realized that I’d made a rookie mistake…the pattern calls for size 2 needles…which are considerably larger than the 2.0mm needles that I was using.  Next time I’ll get it right!

When I first saw this pattern I was planning on making them for AM a good Japanese friend.  I’m glad she has really small hands!!  We’ve exchanged goldfish (kingyo) gifts and trinkets for the past 9 years.  I hope it gets cold enough for mittens in Atami.

When all else fails….make mittens

Monday, October 26th, 2009
The past month has been an absolute blur. I’ve been doing lots of knitting to keep my mind off of many different things, including the death of a friend, and a bout of flu (perhaps of the swine variety). Knitting has kept me busy, and feeling productive when life gets overwhelming. I think that mittens are particularly great because once you’ve made one or two pairs, it can be very predictable indeed.
I was thinking back over the many different mittens I’ve made…the first pair ever, made from robin’s egg blue, yellow, and pink acrylic yarn. I must have been in elementary school at the time, the mittens don’t fit me anymore! I sat with my grandmother as she carefully explained how to create a gusset, and the importance of doing a lot of ribbing at the cuff, even if you hate doing ribbing. She’s right, I’ve thanked myself many times when I don’t get snow down my sleeves! Even at that young age, there was a streak of knitting rebellion. No, I didn’t want to make a swatch…and no, I didn’t want to make the cuffs with matching stripes.
Mittens for Evan

Fox and Geese

In high school I started knitting fox and geese mittens from the book Fox and Geese and Fences by Robin Hansen, and these became my default mittens, the kind that I can knit even in a movie theatre. I’ve made pairs for family members and friends, some being mailed to far away places like Vancouver, Germany and South Korea.From the same book I learned how to make thrummed mittens, which were also quite a hit with family and friends. It wasn’t until later that I realized there was a controversy about how thrumming should be done.

I wore a pair of thrummed mittens on strings throughout university, and would often arrive to class with steam visibly rising out of my warm mittens.

visible thrums

visible thrums

Over the years I’ve used mittens as projects to experiment and refine techniques such as stranded colourwork, cables, and interesting stitch patterns. I have knit for the local breakfast program charity auction, as well as silent auctions supporting the Environment club at school.

Mittens for a charity auction

Mittens knit for a charity auction supporting the school board breakfast program

My first handspun kool-aid dyed wool became mittens that smelled so wonderful for the first few months

My first handspun mittens

My first handspun mittens-can't you just smell the kool-aid?

What better gift to a sheep farmer that gives you 3 bags full of fleece, but to make a pair of mittens for him out of his kind donation.

Mittens for a sheep farmer

Mittens for a sheep farmer-gold colour from dying the wool with onion

When I heard the news of my friend’s untimely death, one of the first things I did was to pick up my needles and cast on. I knew I needed a project that would be intricate enough to keep my mind occupied. I wanted this project to be meaningful to me and to his family. Since he was a lover of words, I decided upon the poetry mittens that I had seen on Ravelry. I chose the following two poems.

poetry mittens

poetry mittens

Do Not Stand At My Grave and Weep

Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush
I am the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circled flight.
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there. I did not die.
-Mary Elizabeth Frye

poetry mittens

poetry mittens

and

Hold On To What is Good

Hold on to what is good

Even if it is a handful of earth
Hold on to what you believe in
Even if it is a tree which stands by itself
Hold on to what you must do
Even if it is a long way from here
Hold on to your life

Even if it is easier to let go
Hold on to my hand
Even when I have gone away from you

-Pueblo Indian prayer

poetry mittens

poetry mittens

It did take a few hours fiddling with a spreadsheet and words to get both pairs of mittens charted out. I luckily had sock wool (Kroy in the cream colour and Regia silk in blue) in my stash, and 10 days later I have two pairs of mittens. True to form, I did no swatch….but luckily both pairs worked out to human hand size. These mittens have given me comfort this past month, and I hope they will do the same for their new owners.

hold_on_chart (pdf)hold_on_chart

This blank_template (pdf) will be helpful in designing your own poetry mittens.