Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Finished Mittens, and a New Hat

I finished the blue top-down mittens I've been working on for about a week. As usual, there are imponderables: why is the thumb on one mitten bigger than on the other mitten? Why did I forget to start the thumb hole until I was a couple of rows past the right point? Oh well. With mittens, fit is not crucial, and they "work" pretty much regardless.

I am still not entirely satisfied with the way the thumbs look, though. I think for my next top-down mitten I'm going to follow the directions for a change. Anna Zilboorg does not use the after-thought thumb or "thumb trick" thumb. She stops working on the mitten when she gets to the place where the thumb should be inserted; she goes and gets other dpns and makes a thumb from the top down; and finally, she grafts it onto the palm and then continues knitting the mitten. Maybe there's a reason for this. Maybe I should follow the directions.

I did follow the directions for the hat I made yesterday.  This is a pattern called "Who?" that I downloaded from the Ravelry site. I made the yarn for it while I was in TN in early fall: it is a wool/angora blend that I spun very fine and plied six strands of it together!  This is the first time I've ever plied more than three ends together. I had to make a homemade lazy kate with a shoebox and a coat hanger in order to hold six bobbins in place for the plying. But it worked fine. Plying six strands together makes for a very even yarn, as it averages out all the nubs and slubs. I was going for a worsted weight yarn, and I got one. This hat knit up very quickly as a consequence, on size 4.5 mm needles, at about 4 stitches per inch.

If you look closely, you can see owls. See them? I am going to sew some buttons on for eyes, so it will be more obvious that they are owls.

To make the owls, you make some traveling stitches by cabling across four stitches, four different times. I learned to cable without a cable needle last winter, and I had to review the Youtube video to do it again. This great video shows very clearly how to cable without a needle, and I recommend it. Using a cable needle for me slows things down and makes it so awkward that it's not any fun.

Here's a close-up of one of the owls:

I'm glad that I plied so many strands together to make this yarn. It looks almost "buyed," as my son used to say. More importantly, the cables show up because the yarn is smooth and uniform. The other times I have tried knit/purl or cable patterns with handspun,  you couldn't see the structure of the knitting very well because the yarn itself had so much texture. But here, all the plies smooth things out and make it possible to see the owls.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Mittens from the Top Down

I've been knitting this new series of mittens from the top down, based on the method outlined in Anna Zilboorg's book, Magnificent Mittens and Socks.  It's a little tricky at first to understand how the tip of the mitten is constructed, so I made a little video that shows the very beginning of the mitten. The first thing you do is you knit a tiny rectangle. This rectangle has four live stitches on two of its sides, attached to two of  your dpns. Once you've made it, then you use your other dpns to pick up three stitches on each of the other two sides. These three stitches grow to become the palm and back of the mitten.  (Next week I'll show how you cast on and knit the little starter rectangle.)

Here is the tip of the mitten with all the increases done.

You can see that as I increased the number of stitches on the palm and on the back, I started knitting the color pattern of the mitten from a chart in the book. It's a little fiddly, handling several colors in this little space, but it can be done, and it's great the way the pattern fits perfectly and symmetrically into the top of the mitten.

Wednesday, November 9, 2011

Mittens and Thumbs

I've been making mittens from an inspiring book called Magnificent Mittens and Socks by Anna Zilboorg. She makes really colorful mittens, a lot of which have long gauntlet-like, flared cuffs. The purpose of these cuffs is to make the mittens big and colorful enough that they won't get lost as easily, and also, in my view, to keep snow from going up the sleeves of your jacket when you plunge your hands into the powder to make a snowball to throw at your friend.

But the flared cuffs, although traditional in parts of Scandinavia, look pretty girlie to me, and I'm making mittens for guys right now. So I just make a regular ribbed cuff, or sometimes I just narrow the wrist area by switching to smaller needles.

Anna Zilboorg also uses what she calls "the invisible thumb." This is a thumb that sort of blends into the pattern of the palm. It's not exactly invisible, but it does merge nicely with the palm pattern, as you can see in my mitten below:

Anna Zilboorg's strategy for making this thumb is to stop knitting the mitten when you get to the point where you want to insert the thumb. You put the main mitten aside, and knit a thumb from the top down, and then you graft it onto the main mitten at the thumb place by knitting the back-of-the-thumb stitches together with some of the palm stitches.

But this is not how I do it. I do it the way I learned from Elizabeth Zimmerman: the thumb trick, as she calls it. Some call it the afterthought thumb. The truly "afterthought" way to  do the afterthought thumb (or afterthought pocket, or afterthought heel) is as follows:  you snip a few stitches in the middle of where you want to put the thumb, pocket, or heel; you carefully unravel the stitches for as wide a section as you need to insert the afterthought thing; you pick up stitches on either side of this gap; and then you start knitting the thumb or whatever. (Darn the ravelled ends in later.)

The great thing about this method is that you can knit "blanks," that is, tubes of some length which can then become a sock or a mitten or whatever is needed at the time. You don't have to know when you're knitting the tube whom it will be for; you can decide that later, and at that point you will know how much space to allow between the end of the hand or foot and the thumb or heel. I imagine that many knitters in the past just knitted blanks, kept them in a drawer, and when somebody needed a sock or mitten, they pulled out a blank, snipped a thread, and in a few minutes a new sock or mitten was had.

Since I know who I am knitting these mittens for, though, I knit the afterthought thumb with some forethought:  I insert a thread at the point where the thumb should go (the EZ thumb trick). When I come to that point, I knit the stitches off onto a different colored thread. Usually for a thumb this might be about two inches worth of stitches. Then I slip those stitches back onto the left needle and continue knitting around, as if nothing had happened.  Here's how it looks:

Later, when the hand of the mitten is finished, I pull out this contrasting thread (in this case the blue thread) and pick up the stitches above and below it. Then I knit the thumb from the bottom up.

Here you can see the thumb stitches on their needles ready to be knit up:

I usually start on these two needles and then add two more, as it's easier to knit circularly on three or four needles. I pick up a stitch in the two gaps at either end of the mitten opening, to avoid a hole there.

Another thing that's distinctive about Anna Zilboorg's mitten method is that she knits them from the top down. To do this, you use a figure-8 cast-on (scroll down).  I found this cast-on frustrating at first, but later I came to love it, and to see the advantage of knitting the mitten from the fingertips down, rather than beginning at the cuff. The advantage is that you can try on the mitten as you knit and make sure that it will fit. You can keep increasing at the tip until it's wide enough to fit the recipient's hand comfortably.

The other thing I like is that this cast-on allows you to have a seamless band that runs up the sides of the mitten, over the top, and down the other side, graphically separating the back of the mitten from the palm graphically. This band can be solid or striped. (You can see it on the green and red mitten at the top.) This is how stockings and socks are knitted in Eastern Europe: a similar band separates the sole from the instep and the front from the back of the sock. Anna Zilboorg has written extensively about socks from that part of the world, and presumably their design influenced her mitten designs.

AZ dyes her own yarn for her mittens, and I did the same. I had a big cone of sport weight yarn in white, and I dyed with my new stash of Greener Shades dyes, which are acid dyes with no heavy metals in them. I used a crock pot out on the porch, and it was very easy and satisfactory. 

Saturday, September 24, 2011

Greener Shades Dyes

I've been experimenting with Greener Shades dyes. These are acid dyes for protein fibers such as wool and silk, but they are nontoxic. Most acid dyes are not extremely toxic, but some have heavy metals in them, and it's difficult to know which do and which don't. With these dyes, you know you're safe.

I dyed several 100 yd skeins of a sport weight yarn that I bought on a cone years ago from Webs. The plan is to make very colorful mittens, from a book called Magnificent Mittens and Socks, by Anna Zilboorg. The gauge for her fancy mittens is about 6 stitches to the inch, which is perfect for this sport weight yarn.

I did all the dyeing in a crock pot out on the porch. This is a dedicated dye crock pot, and it works very well for dyeing wool, because it just sort of simmers rather than coming to a hard boil, which is easier on the wool. The workflow is: I skein the yarn, put it in soapy water to soak, heat up the crock pot, add the dye, add the yarn, and then wait a while for the yarn to soak up some of the dye. Then I add the vinegar which activates the dye and makes it stick to the yarn. I leave the mixture to simmer for a while, and then I come back and check it. If the water is clear, the dye has set and you can remove the yarn from the pot. I cool it for a minute and then rinse it in warm water, spin out the extra water and hang to dry.

I use the dye as a 1% solution. That is, I dissolve 1 gram of the dye in 100 mls of water, in a little half pint jam jar. For a deep shade, I use a 2% dye concentration: that is, I weigh the fiber dry, and multiply by 2 to get the number of ml to use to dye with. For example, for 50 grams of yarn you would use 100 ml of dye solution.

One thing I found out is that when you try to dye wool a deep shade like that, it doesn't take up every bit of the dye even if you cook it for a while. But that's ok, because if you put a new skein in after you take the previous, deeply dyed one out, the new skein will soak up the rest of the dye and will be a nice pale shade, a tint of the previous skein. These skeins harmonize well with each other in knitting.


Friday, September 2, 2011

Skorts for an Active Girl

My niece is a gymnast and a very strong and active girl. She likes for her clothes, even her school clothes, to be comfortable and practical, and she likes to be able to do a cartwheel whenever she wants to. For all those reasons, she prefers skorts to skirts. Skorts look like skirts, but they have built-in shorts underneath. So when you turn a cartwheel, nobody says, "I see London, I see France..."

I made a skort for her using McCall's 4762. I altered the waist and hips slightly, as my niece is very slim for her height. You sew the skort by making a pair of shorts, then an A-line skirt, and then a waistband. The shorts and skirt are basted together, and then sewed to the waistband. The waistband is smooth in front and elasticized in the back:

After I made this skort I realized it wouldn't be hard to design my own, using any shorts and skirt patterns. For the next one, I decided to make the skirt fuller, for more freedom of movement. I used the Kwik Sew Sewing for Children book, and I traced the shorts pattern and the full gathered skirt pattern. I added some side seam pockets to the skirt, and it was a simple matter to draft a waistband to sew both pieces to.

The KwikSew book also tells you how to take the basic shorts pattern and alter it so that it becomes flared shorts, which look like a skirt because the legs are fuller. These shorts are very comfortable, and needless to say, they are sufficiently modest for cartwheels and handsprings. I put side seam pockets on these shorts also. All you have to do to alter the basic shorts pattern is slash the pattern from waist to hem and spread the hem about 3 inches. (I also lengthened the shorts first, so that they would be long enough for school.)

Now I'm thinking about skorts for fall, in soft corduroys. The shorts could be a different, coordinating fabric. Maybe I'll make some big girl skorts for myself. I don't usually turn upside down except when I'm doing yoga, but maybe yoga skorts are the next hot thing.

Monday, August 8, 2011

New Curtain Warp

This is a new warp of 10/2 cotton that I just beamed today with Tom's help. The weave structure is going to be canvas weave stripes, a lace weave. The effective sett is about 34 ends per inch, because the warp is crammed in some of the dents of the reed. I beamed on enough warp to make two curtain panels, some cup towels, and a sleeveless top. I'm trying to use up my stash of 10/2 cotton, which will also be the weft yarn, but I plan to use some handspun weft on the sleeveless top. This will be singles cotton that I started spinning during the Tour de Fleece.

Sunday, August 7, 2011

Slipstitch Rings socks

I've been going through Cat Bordhi's sock book, New Pathways for Sock Knitters. She has invented a bunch of new ways to knit socks; the innovation mainly lies in the way the arch expansion is created. On a "regular" sock, you knit the heel flap and turn the heel, and then you pick up stitches alongside the heel flap to make a gusset, which you then reduce as you knit around the sock. This makes the sock fit over the "fat" part of your foot when you pull it on.  (If you wrap a tape measure from your heel over your ankle and back to your heel, you'll see that this part of your foot is quite a bit bigger than the circumference of your foot alone, or your ankle alone. For me, it's 150% of my foot circumference.)

Cat Bordhi has invented eight (count 'em!) new ways to deal with this sock architecture problem. I have been trying them, and I'm on number 2, Cedar Architecture.  Cedar Architecture is pretty simple: you just increase gradually anywhere you want to around the sock, until you have enough stitches to reach around the instep plus heel! Then you do a short-row heel turn on the bottom of the sock. This special heel turn uses up the extra stitches that you added when you increased, so that by the time you start knitting the foot, you're back to the right number of stitches around. It's sort of mysterious to me still.

Anyway, this new form of arch expansion is liberating, design-wise, because the design of the ankle can continue all the way down to the bottom of the foot, without being interrupted by any heel flap. In this pattern, called Slipstitch Rings, the last pattern ring is right before the heel turn. Cool!

I used a multicolored sock yarn that was on sale at KnitPicks, as well as some left-over yarn for the rings.