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November 23, 2006

Gobble

Highlights:

Three rises = beautifully light rolls with a fine, soft crumb (I use the Bread Bible recipe, mixed by hand - with a little extra flour today, it's so humid):

Sweet Potato and Pecan Gratin, waiting for the oven (layers of sliced parboiled sweets, chopped toasted pecans, brown sugar and unsalted butter in a greased pan. A little warm, cinnamon-y milk to moisten - into a 400 degree oven while the turkey rests, or until things are brown and melty and delicious and easily pierced by a paring knife):

Fields of Brussels sprouts, oiled and ready to go (these get snapped up like candy by kids and vegetable-hating adults alike. Trim a pint and a half of Brussels sprouts, halve them, spread in a single layer on a sheet and toss in olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast, stirring once in a while, at 350 - 400 degrees or so for 45 minutes. When the loose leaves crackle and the halves are ringed with caramel, they're ready. Crisp bacon is a nice garnish- but I like them best almost-naked and nutty-sweet):

Gingered carrots and parsnips (a ladleful of stock, a tiny drizzle of honey, plenty of minced ginger and garlic and crushed red pepper, simmered to a glaze) and glazed pearl onions (blanched onions shaken in a bubbling glaze of sugar, some rosemary and stock):

And pies, of course, a-cooling on the counter.

Also: thyme-y creamed corn; perfectly basic, basically perfect bread stuffing; green beans with vinegared shallots; pan gravy; mashed potatoes; cranberry sauce; ham; and a turkey.

Thanksgiving was odd for me this year - I had class right up until yesterday afternoon, and didn't get a chance to do anything in advance but shop and make the cranberry sauce (I added plenty of orange zest and a clove to the boiling berries this year - very nice). I was up at 4 today, cutting pastry dough, planning oven schedules and boiling lakes of water to blanch vegetables - worth it, though, to have everyone in one place and happy.

I am thankful, for sure.

November 21, 2006

A little something

I've been spinning, too.

This is hand dyed Wensleydale top from the astonishingly talented Lisa Souza in the "Petroglyph" colorway, spun as a 2-ply at about a DK weight. This stuff is fun. It's my first time spinning a long wool, and let me tell you - it's so much faster, so much easier to spin than the short, slippery Merinos I've been working with. And oh! The color! It's wonderful.

Eventually, I want to become a versatile spinner, a thoughtful spinner who really knows her stuff and generally makes smart decisions about yarn design based on the inherent qualities of the fiber and the intended use. This seems to me to be an important building block - to understand why this is, and why that isn't, and to know what to do with that information; the whole "walk before you run" thing as applied to spinning. To that end, I'm trying to settle down from magpie spinning and branch out a little - trying new fibers, new weights, and then actually knitting with them to see how they behave. This Wensleydale is a Good Experiment, I think - I've learned a lot just from the mistakes I made spinning this first bump. It needs a softer spin, for sure - though the plied yarn is balanced, it feels pretty harsh (longer staple = less twist needed? Someone help me out here); I was treadling like a madwoman, trying to get all those little hairs to lie smooth. Better to just accept a hairy yarn, I think, and spin softer - a squishy-but-structured yarn should be pretty easy to achieve with this stuff. I have another 3/4 lb to spin, and I'll be focusing on making each skein better than the last.

The color changes are subtle enough that I just might actually wear something knit out of this - it's much coarser than a fine wool, of course, so it should be something jacket-like or otherwise outerwear-y. Something to show off the colors - I'm thinking short rows, I'm thinking panels, I'm thinking bias fabrics (not all at once, of course!). We'll see.

In other news -

(this is the first 250 yards, about 1/4 the total, of the Platinum Merino/Tencel from Mama-E at Cloverhill Yarn Shop; I couldn't wait until I'd spun all the singles to start plying. Cool and brilliant and gleaming - did you ever see anything so like a stream of living metal?)

November 20, 2006

Tips, Tricks and Treats

Do we like?

I like, I think. The Endpaper Mitts have inspired a little 2-color frenzy in me; specifically, a 2-color accessory frenzy. Mitts and mittens are so tiny, so quick, so flat and simple and blank canvas-y. These are Proper Colorwork Mittens (in contrast to the wham bam mitts); I like to think of it as a project that brings together and tweaks the best elements of more traditional folk mittens (which are wonderful, but not my cup of tea).

For example, it's got a Norwegian-style thumb gore, except it's placed a little closer to the side seam and held separately to create a more natural fit than the palmside gore you usually see:

A better corrugated ribbing cuff - usually, corrugated ribbing is lovely, but pretty inelastic (and therefore useless when a cuff is meant to seal out snow). This slight variation is still pretty cool-looking in a vertical-stripey way, but is a lot more functional, with a sexy corded edge, to boot:

And then, the top of the mitt is a rounded square more in keeping with actual finger shapes than the super-pointy tops of most mittens. This was done with a little fancy footwork around the way the "frame" stitches are decreased with the top of the mitten, and then a 3-needle bindoff from the inside.

The pattern will be mirrored for the right glove to create a quirky little set, and then I'll write up the pattern. In keeping with my book theme, the scrolls on these were meant to bring to mind the lovely throwbacks printed by William Morris' Kelmscott Press - the idea that the functional should be beautiful as well, that craftsmanship matters, seems to me as relevant now as it was when the Industrial Revolution loomed.

(About the naming of the Endpaper Mitts: endpapers are the sheets joining the covers and text block of a book. There's one bridging the inside front cover and the first page of the book, and one bridging the inside back and last page. I believe all hard-bound books have them - in library bindings etc, they're the only thing holding the thing together; in better editions, they serve a host of functions, including taking the stress off the constant opening and closing of the book, covering the raw edges of the cover material, and just plain looking purty. Recto and verso was just my nerdy way of saying "left" and "right" - recto is the first side of a folded leaf you read (the right side), and verso its back. A diaper pattern is any kind of small, repeating allover pattern; though I always think of it as a diagonal lozenge arrangement, it can be any kind of small, tessellated decoration. I believe the root word just means "cloth", independently inspiring "diaper pattern" and "diaper" as in baby diaper - one didn't come from the other).

Fair Isle TIps

Some miscellaneous, almanac-style tips for first-time knitters of Fair Isle:

How do I keep colorwork from getting wonky around the DPN joins??

Things get funny-looking where DPNs meet because the color carried at the back wants to take the shortest path to the next stitch - basically, cutting the corner. You can avoid this in a couple of creative ways: first, try planning the joins so they fall at unobtrusive spots in the pattern (i.e., at side seams), or somewhere you'll consistently switch colors every stitch (if the carried yarn cuts a distance of 1 stitch, it isn't going to make much difference). Or, try to use at least four needles: that way, you can almost straighten out the join before you knit the first stitch on the next needle. Or, use magic loop. Or (and this is the way I do it), simply use a free finger on your right hand to hold the carried yarn tight into the corner when you're knitting the first stitch with that color.

Augh, my colorwork is super-tight/I can't get gauge!

First, try swatching to row gauge. That is, swatch to try and meet the row gauge given in the pattern, and see if you can meet stitch gauge with thorough blocking. You'd be surprised at how much stranded knitting will stretch laterally without looking significantly different. Also, try using wooden needles instead of slick metal. The wood will grip your stitches a little more and let you spread them out before switching colors - that's essential to even stranded knitting.

What do you mean, spread the stitches out?

Just that: say your chart calls for you to knit 3 stitches in color A, and then 2 stitches in color B. Go ahead and knit those 3 stitches in color A. Now, before you knit the next 2 stitches in color B, st-r-e-e-t-c-h out the three stitches you just knit on the right needle - not to the point of straining them, but enough that they're not all jammed together, so there's a little space between them. Learn to be consistent - always stretch your stitches the same amount, and do it every time. It'll become second nature eventually.

I'm being really good about maintaining an even tension, but the pattern still looks funny. It's darker in some places and lighter in others.

Are you being consistent with which hand holds which yarn? Or, in other words, is the same color coming from under and the same color from over every time you switch? Yarn dominance: learn it, live it, love it. It's most apparent in two-color patterns, and it's worth understanding. Basically, the color that comes from under (the left-hand color, if you're knitting in the standard two-handed fashion) will form a slightly longer stitch, or "present" a little more yarn than the color that comes from over (the right-hand color, usually). It's very subtle, but over large areas, it makes a difference. Make sure you're consistent about which color you hold in which hand, or you'll get sections of knitting that look just different enough to distract.

In general, I like to hold the "pattern" color in the left hand, and the "background" color in the left. This emphasizes the pattern color and makes it the focus; with very small patterns, letting the background color be dominant can obscure the pattern to the point of unreadibility. There are other factors, of course - the value difference between the colors, for example - that might tell you which yarn to hold dominant, but as a general rule, pattern under works pretty well.

Check out this post from NonaKnits for more reading and an example of the phenomenon.

How do I increase and decrease in stranded knitting?

At the end of this post, I talked in great detail about how to handle decreases in Fair Isle. Basically, you need to shape in a way that preserves the integrity of the pattern. There are lots of ways people increase in Fair Isle, but here's the way I do it: I tend to think it provides the cleanest, most "readable" and least obtrusive shaping.

Here's a chart that shows increases along a central purled stitch of background color.

The black blocks are "no stitch" blocks, increased out every other row until the shaping is once again complete and there are 23 patterned stitches on the needle total. A cuff-up sleeve would be increased this way, or the sides of a circularly-knit pullover - or the thumb gusset of the Endpaper Mitts.

Here we are, at the last row before shaping (the stitches on the needle are the ones highlighted on the chart).

The first increase row. When you get to those increased stitches (denoted by the yellow arrows), make a YO with the color called for that stitch by the chart

On the next row, knit those stitches in pattern, twisting the YO. This means that if you made the YO by bringing the yarn from front to back, you should knit into the back leg. If you made the YO by bringing the yarn from back to front, you should knit into the front leg. It doesn't much matter which you do on which side, but you should be consistent if you do choose to mirror them.

You can see here how neatly mirrored increases can be done with this method. Since the twisted YO "presents" so much yarn on the right side of the work (more than, say, a lifted bar increase would), the growing pattern looks very natural.

November 17, 2006

For reals

Recto and verso.

(the diaper pattern reminds me of old-fashioned endpapers, see.)

Can you believe it? I liked these enough to actually go ahead and knit the second - and the Knit Knite Girls can tell you how rarely that happens.

Hopefully, you've got an idea of how dead-simple these really are when the two are shown together: either glove can be worn on either hand, with just a simple purled "seam" at either side to give a little structure and hide the join. And that's about it, really. Barenaked bones, gussied up just a little.

Tubular cast-on tricks and Fair Isle tips tomorrow - along with, maybe, a peek at the Proper Colorwork Mittens I'm planning as we speak, sparked by the fun of the Endpaper exercise. Excited? Check. Refreshed? Check. Back full force? Check, I think. Maybe all I needed was a little palate cleansing, after all.

November 16, 2006

Endpaper Mitts

Sometimes a tiny little hit is plenty.

I've been a little stalled out on the knitting, lately (yes, even the entrelac): my brain is abubble with plans and ideas, I'm loving a lot of projects recently out, but when it gets right down to it - nothing much seems very appealing to knit right now. You know the feeling? Just a general...blah. Seems just now, I'd rather cook, or read, or curl up with a cup of coffee, without ever-present yarn and needles in-hand.

I think it's just plain old fatigue, really - lately, nothing I've knit has felt like much fun. Interesting maybe, absorbing certainly, but not particularly entertaining. I want to get back into being excited about projects, itching to try something out, deeply satisfied by translation from idea to tactile substance. A spontaneous, light, bagatelle of a knit - that's what I need right now.

Enter the Endpaper Mitts. They're tiny enough that they're no commitment at all; they provided a good field for trying out some tweaks to techniques (a Better Tubular Cast On, anyone?), the pattern satisfies but doesn't exhaust; the structure is simple enough, clean enough, to approach orderly grace.

They'll also be eminently practical: the house is kept chilly year-round (can't abide a stuffy room), but stiff fingers aren't an option. I'm pretty pleased - can you tell?

Pattern: My own (follows below)
Yarn: Louet Gems Pearl, in color 02 (tobacco) and Koigu Premium Merino, in color 1500 (deep teal)
Yardage: 1 50 gram ball (about 180 yards) each (I hope)
Yarn Source: Clover Hill Yarn Shop and Woolstock Yarn Shop
Needles: 2.00mm (US 0) Addi Turbo circular needles and 2.75mm (US 2) Brittany Birch DPNs
Gauge: 8 sts/inch over pattern
Modifications: --

A pair is made of two identical, reversible mitts. I've used two fingering-weight Merinos, but jumperweight Shetland, sock yarns, or any other yarn of the right weight would work just as well.

These would be an excellent first project for a novice colorwork knitter - they're small and snappy and dead-simple, the pattern is easy to memorize and predict (and they're worked in the round, so you'll learn to read your knitting), and they'll teach you some shaping basics.

I will collect this into a printer-friendly PDF for free download eventually, but the HTML version follows below. Do let me know of any questions, or anything that needs clarification - I'll incorporate all of it into the PDF version. I'll also be sharing some first-time colorwork tips and illustrating how I do some of the methods called for in the next couple days. Additional resources can be found here for the Italian Tubular Cast-On, and here for the Tubular bind off/kitchener rib bind off.

Endpaper Mitts

Gauge, Needles and Notions

(see below for sizing notes)

For Women's Small: 32 sts/40 rows to 4" in Chart A
For Women's Medium: 30 sts/40 rows to 4" in Chart A
For Women's Large: 28 sts/36 rows to 4" in Chart A

Recommended needles: for SMALL, set of 5 2.75mm (US 2) DPNs. For MEDIUM: set of 5 3.00mm DPNs. For LARGE: set of 5 3.25mm (US 3) DPNs. For all sizes: set of 5 2.00mm (US 0) DPNs. You may find that colorwork is smoother and gauge easier to maintain on wooden needles rather than slick metal. As always, check your gauge before beginning with a swatch in the round.

Other notions: blunt tapestry needle.

Sizes and Fit Notes

This pattern uses gauge changes to fit three different sizes. To determine your size, wrap a flexible tape measure around the knuckles of your dominant hand, excluding the thumb, and find the circumference.

Small....6" - 6.5"
Medium....7" - 7.5"
Large....8" - 8.5"

The mitts are intended to fit snugly; if in doubt, go down a size.

An Important Note on This Pattern

For your convenience, the full shaping lines of the thumb gusset have been provided in chart form (Chart B). When working this section of the piece, the chart must be mirrored for the back of the work. For example, for Row 2 of the chart, you would read from right to left as usual, work a purled "seam" stitch (not included on chart) and then read from left to right for the second half. As straight sections are symmetrical, Chart A is always read from right to left.

Abbreviations

k: knit
m1: make 1 (lifted bar increase)
p: purl
sl1 wyib: slip 1 stitch as if to purl, holding working yarn behind stitch;
sl1 wyif: slip 1 stitch as if to purl, holding working yarn in front of stitch;
st, sts: stitch, stitches

Detailed Instructions

Cuff

Using the Italian tubular cast-on method and main color, cast on 56 stitches onto a single smaller DPN. Work the first two rows flat as follows:

Row 1: *k1, sl1wyif, repeat from * to end
Row 2: *k1, sl1wyif, repeat from * to end

Distribute stitches equally onto 4 smaller DPNs (14 sts on each needle). Join, being careful not to twist.

Next round: *k1, p1, repeat from * to end of round.

Continue to work in k1, p1 ribbing for 13 rows more. Attach contrast color and change to larger needles.

Begin Colorwork

CHART A

Next round: *Work Row 1 of Chart A across 27 stitches, p1 in main color (this establishes a purled "seam" stitch at the side of the work). Repeat from * once more to end.

Continue to work in Chart A as set until 3 full 10-row repeats have been worked, continuing to work purled "seam" stitches as established.

Begin Thumb Gusset

CHART B

Next round: *Work Row 1 of Chart B across 27 stitches, p1 in main color, repeat from * to end.
Next round: Work across Chart B to first false "seam" stitch, m1 in pattern, p1 in main color, m1 in pattern, work Row 2 of Chart B (working from left to right), p1..

Continue as set, working an increase round as above every 3rd row 8 times more. 75 sts total, 18 increased.

Form Thumb

Next round: work Chart B across 27 stitches. Place next 19 sts (9 colorwork sts, 1 purl st, 9 colorwork sts) on a piece of spare yarn for thumb. Cast on 1 st over gap; work Chart B across 27 sts, p1 in main color.

Palm

Next round: *Work Chart B across 27 sts, p1 in main color, repeat from * to end of round.

Continue to work as set until Chart B ends, continuing to work purled "seam" stitches as established.

Work one full repeat of Chart A as established.

Next round: *Work Row 1 of Chart A across 27 sts, p1 in main color, repeat from * to end of round.

Break contrast color.

Ribbing

Switch to smaller DPNs.

Set-up Round *K27, p1, repeat from * to end of round.
Round 1: *k1, p1, repeat from * to end of round.

Continue to work in k1, p1 ribbing for 4 rounds more.

Set-up Round 1: *k1, sl1wyif, repeat from * to end of round.
Set-up Round 2: *sl1wyib, p1, repeat from * to end of round.

Bind off using tubular method (kitchener rib bind-off).

Thumb Ribbing

Put held thumb stitches back on 2 smaller needles. Re-attach main color at first stitch after "seam" stitch.

Set-up Round: K across 9 sts; with a new needle, pick up and k 3 stitches across gap; k across 9 stitches to end of round, p1. 22 sts total.
Round 1: *k1, p1, repeat from * 3 times more. Ssk, p1, k2tog, p1. (K1, p1) to end of round. 20 sts total, 2 sts decreased.
Round 2: *k1, p1, repeat from * to end of round.

Continue to work in k1, p1 ribbing for 3 rounds more.

Set-up Round 1: *k1, sl1wyif, repeat from * to end of round.
Set-up Round 2: *sl1wyib, p1, repeat from * to end of round.

Bind off using tubular method (kitchener rib bind-off).

Work a second mitt in the same way.

Finishing

Weave in all ends. Soak in cool water with rinse-free wool wash for 15 minutes; drain thoroughly by squeezing gently against side of emptied sink. Roll in a thirsty towel and stand or lean on the package to extract as much water as possible. Block over a cylinder of the correct circumference, or flat on a non-absorbent surface with pins.

November 08, 2006

Washed

Sneak a peek.

I think we've established that knitting to masochistic, up-all-night deadlines is no fun . . . but mostly-secret hidden garters and excellently-fitting heels and smart, knitterly shaping sure are, yessirree. Stay tuned!

Spinning

Thanks so much for the kind compliments about the laceweight. I really can't say enough good things about Merino/Tencel - the luster, the smoothness, the ease of spinning . . . I could go on for days. And I probably will; I treated myself to a whole bunch more at Stitches.

Those pinks! Those browns! Those turning-maple shades of flame and plum! How could anyone resist?

The third bump of top came with the name "Platinum".

Sweet fancy Moses, this stuff is gorgeous. I think it's more like gunmetal or pewter, myself; the Tencel at a super-high twist gives a subtle, glinting kind of sheen rather than a true glitter - which I'm glad of. Who needs people mistaking your blood- and sweat- and tear-saturated handspun for Berroco FX? As it is, the color moves very gently through different saturations of the same cool grey shade, creating a wonderfully complex effect - it reminds me of the play of shadow and reflection in the embossed handles of very old, very well-kept silver. New silver won't do, you see: I'm talking decades of patina, of the glint careful hands leave behind on things fine and things humble.

(It's my metaphor, and I'll indulge myself if I want to).

Anyway. I'm spinning this up as a laceweight, too. What should I do with the others, though? My problem is, I'm a pretty conservative spinner - the shininess of this stuff makes me hesitant to use if for anything other than accessory-type things. Thoughts? Opinions?

Edit: reading back, I see that this is unclear - I have big plans for the grey laceweight, for sure, but what to do with the multis? Narrow stripes in a plain stockinette boatneck? Cuffs on an otherwise somber pair of knee socks? Hmm...

November 03, 2006

Ride a painted pony

...let the spinning wheel spin.

(that's a Tic Tac, included for scale)

It took, let's see - a month to spin this, in little tiny chunks of time here and there: a spare five minutes waiting for a big file to upload, 10 minutes while the orzo boils, you know the kind of thing I mean (now, I just need to invent a toothbrush that'll do my teeth without any help from me - 4 extra minutes of spinning time a day!).

I think it's stunning (despite a lot of still-learning spinner's flaws) - it's a 50/50 Merino/Tencel blend from Mama-E by way of Clover Hill Yarn (they'll be at Stitches this weekend, with tons of Mama-E's stuff, woot! While we're at it, full disclosure: Erin and Chris are both friends of mine), in an absolutely beautiful swirl of seashell pinks and sophisticated, sagey greens. This begged for laceweight: the sheen of the Tencel is almost like that of silk - luminous and glowing - but there is a coziness to the yarn that must come from the wool. Perfect for a little shawl, someday - some delicate shoulder-perched bit of flowery lace for chilly spring nights.

I decided to go with a 2-ply for this stuff for a couple reasons: first, the colors are so close in value that I feared any more plies at this fine grist would just turn out a muddy, mono-chromatic looking yarn. Second, I think 2-plies are just fine for lace; they have a flatness that I think blocks out beautifully and shows the structure of the knitting very nicely. Good stuff.

Weight: 80 grams
Yardage: 900 yards/ 830 meters (~ laceweight)
Plied WPI: ~33
Other specs: Worsted-spun two-ply, singles spun from random lengthwise-stripped sections

And now I have a bobbin full of this to ply:

I don't even remember when I spun this up, but it's Hello Yarn's Merino top in Blows Smoke. I think I'll end up with 400 yards or so of fingering-weight barberpole yarn - two-color Fair Isle, maybe, with a natural white? We'll see what we see.

(Here is where I try to adequately say thanks for the very hearty reception from all you very wonderful people, but fail miserably. You've really cheered me up - and I am grateful.)



TO BUY

GRATIS