Tuesday, July 28, 2015

Magic Carpet Tapestry Cowl

It is so hot here right now that even talking about this double-thick, multi-colored, stranded-knitting cowl I made seems ridiculous.



The thing is, though, that if I want things like this to be ready and waiting when it does get cold (and it will get cold, hoo boy, and soon too, ack) I have to make them now, while it's nice and sweltering outside. You all know I don't even mean that ironically. It really is nice and sweltering. I do well in the heat, wow, I am so out of place here in the North, but even when it's so hot my eyelids are sweating, the hot and the humid is good for me. I am happy when it's sultry, and I know that in this, I am all alone. There are only about two really warm weather months here in my neighborhood in New York, and soon enough there will be a nip in the air and everyone but me will be rejoicing.

This was the weirdest knitwear photo shoot ever, and that's saying something, because I once appeared here in my pajamas.



I know, this is goofy. What, was I going to wait until it snows to show you this? I am nowhere near as patient as that. You can almost see what it might be like one day, right? When the blizzards are upon us and the land is forbidding and frozen, and the sky is leaden and ominous and the winds batter against the door? I'll be so glad to pull this up around my ears before heading out into the storm. (Ugh, it hardly bears thinking about...bring me a Corona, stat...)


Particulars: for the colorwork exterior, I used (part of) one skein each KnitPicks Palette in Mineral Heather, Cream, Sea Grass, Wallaby, Green Tea, Garnet Heather and Oregon Coast Heather, and Jamieson's Shetland Spindrift in Mist and Navy. All those yarns are beautiful and everything, but they're also pretty itchy for wearing at the neck, so for the lining I used one skein Malabrigo Lace in Pearl.

There's no pattern for this, because I made it up myself. Here's my process; feel free to use this yourself if you like.

How to Make a Knit Cowl in Stranded Colorwork

1. Pull your palette together. Choose yarns--wool, please--that are all the same weight, in anywhere from two colors to whatever crazy number of colors you think you can handle. Take care to ensure that you have contrasting values in your palette--darks and lights. I used nine different colors. Let your whims guide you. My feeling is that if you like all the colors you chose and you think they look good together, and you've taken care to make sure there are contrasting values, you can't fail at this.

2. Select a stitch pattern. There are a great many wonderful resources out there (I used Alice Starmore's Charts for Color Knitting) or you can get out your graph paper and figure out your own pattern. I'm sure there's an easy, computer-y way to design knitting charts, too, and if you know of a good one, I'd love to hear about it.

3. Count the stitches in each repeat of your chosen stitch pattern. The one I used had a pattern repeat of 49 stitches. Now, using your chosen yarn and an appropriately-sized needle (I used a US 2 16" circular) make a swatch. I'm so sorry, I know swatching is a huge drag, but it's the only way you're going to have any idea what size your finished project will be. Measure the number of stitches per inch in your swatch.

4. Now figure out how big around you want your cowl to be. Ask yourself whether you want it to hug your neck a lot or a little; how much ease do you want it to have? Use a measuring tape to measure around your neck to give you this number. I decided I wanted my cowl to be 22" around.

5. Do some math. 22 (desired finished size in inches) x 9 (stitches per inch in swatch) = 198 (number of stitches to--theoretically--cast on). Wait a minute! Hang on. My chosen stitch pattern chart has 49 stitches in one repeat, and 49 (stitches in pattern repeat) x 4 (repeats of chart) = 196. That's pretty darn close, and good enough.

6. Now figure out how you want to arrange your colors in the pattern. The temptation here is to overthink this until you finally stuff all the yarn into a bag and give up, but this is a lot simpler than it looks. I divided my palette into four sets of one dark and one light yarn that looked good together, and I called the pairs A, B, C, and D. For example, pair B was Mineral Heather (the dark) and Mist (the light). Then I almost arbitrarily divided the 48 rows of the repeat in my chart into symmetrical sections, working more or less from dark to light toward the center of the motif, using the cream yarn as the light value for the very center row in the motif, and then light back to dark. How you do this is entirely a matter of personal choice. You can have a light foreground and a dark background (which is how I did it) and if it's confusing, think of it this way: make stripes in a symmetrical pattern with the darks, and meanwhile work the chart design on top of it using the light value colors. Of course you can do the reverse, as well, using a striping pattern of light values as your background, knitting the charted stitches in dark value colors.

See how the background is striped, with the lighter colors kind of "on top"? Breaking down the design process like that makes it easy to come up with a color strategy.

7. Cast on and start knitting, and because the color work part is so utterly compelling, you'll want to dive right in with row 1 of the chart and your first color pair, but I suggest you do what I forgot to do, and use a provisional cast on to work a bunch of rows of the lining first; this will pay off later when you're all done. Knit your way through the chart, changing colors as needed. Carry the yarn along at the back whenever you can. Work as many pattern row repeats as you need for your cowl to be tall enough--my chart had 48 rows per repeat, and I worked two full repeats. Change yarns and knit the lining in something soft and gorgeous. If you started by working part of the lining first, you can finish the lining and graft the two ends with Kitchener stitch for a flawless finish. If you started with the color work, like I did, knit the whole lining (work the same number of rows--or inches--as you worked for the exterior) and then bind off and seam the lining to the cast on edge using mattress stitch.

8. Block the finished cowl, wait for cold weather--or not--and wear with pride, comfort, and joy.



Saturday, July 25, 2015

True Colors

More adventures with my dyepot, this time using the Queen Anne's Lace that proliferates around here (and most other places, I'll bet) in unmown fields and roadsides. Since I'd never heard of using Queen Anne's Lace as a dye plant, I had a quick look around the internet to see how other people were doing it, and then (as is my way) I just plunged forth and did it, come what may. I filled a plastic shopping bag with flower heads, put them in my dyepot, added enough water to cover, and simmered it for about two hours. It stank. Some people claim to like the smell of these weeds boiling away, saying they smell lemony and carroty, but I thought it was vile. Maybe you have to like (ugh) carrots, I don't know...anyway. I turned off the heat and let it cool in the pot overnight. The next day, I strained the contents through a cheesecloth to remove all the flowery bits and then turned the dye liquor back into the pot. I added 1 T alum and 1/2 t cream of tartar and 4 oz. wet wool yarn into the dye and turned on the heat, letting it warm gradually to a gentle simmer. It bobbed around in the pot for an hour, then I rinsed it by dipping it gently into gradually cooler water baths in the kitchen sink until the water stayed clear. (I still can't get it together to pre-mordant the yarn, and I have no idea whether it will matter or not--if this yarn slowly turns white again over time, I'll let you know.)


Results above. It looks like most plants yield some kind of either brown or gold dye, and Queen Anne's Lace (mordanted with alum) yielded for me a soft, warm yellow I might call "butterscotch". I know there are other factors involved (I honestly know absolutely nothing about any of this, by the way) including the uses of other mordants--copper, for one--that can produce different results, and of course every batch is going to be a little different, no matter what anybody does, and that's part of what makes hand-dyeing so interesting to me. In any case, I think our pioneer ancestors must have worn a LOT of brown and gold, because unless a farmer happened to have a gray sheep, gold and brown--and all variants in between the two--was pretty much the color they had.


Luckily, it's nice.

Wednesday, July 22, 2015

Not so fast

I got all the knuckle-busting stranded knitting finished, and then, presented with the lining, foolishly thought, Now all I have to do is knit 96 rows in plain stockinette and I'll be done! That shouldn't take very long. Ha! Hubris. Four hours later, this is where we're at. What I forgot to take into account is that 96 rows in laceweight yarn on US 3 needles is going to take awhile.

Monday, July 20, 2015

How I Spent My Summer Vacation

It's hard not to spend every minute on this. Watching the design emerge is so endlessly interesting. I'd say it's about halfway there, and every row is still so much fun.

I fired up the dyepot the other day and threw a pair of well-fitting but unpleasantly faded thrift-store jeans in there with some Navy Rit Dye--huge success! It's so easy it feels like I am getting away with something, and now it looks like I have brand-new pants. Seriously, why would I buy anything new?


The heat is finally upon us. The Catdog is a heat-seeker of the first order, which is how I know without a doubt she is the dog for me. It was 90 degrees, and she found the one place in the house where it was even hotter than that and then pressed her face up against it. Also, she is a contortionist. See? Catdog.

Also regarding the heat, this is suddenly a lot of wool. Nevertheless, I can't help myself, and I just aim a fan at my legs and deal with it. Catdog and I are on the same page. I enjoy these days so much--a warm wind blowing the curtains; spending an hour in the garden trying to free the stunted tomato plants from the grip of four-foot tall weeds wildflowers, and the deep and utter deliciousness of a cool shower afterwards. Iced coffee. Fresh blueberries. Dozing beneath a tree with an open book over my face. Mmmm, summer. I love you.

Friday, July 17, 2015

Bulky Indigo-dyed Mittens for July


Now, theoretically, I won't be needing mittens for quite awhile, because supposedly, it is July, but this is one of those summers that isn't really happening--I wore wool and a coat the other day, blah. Maybe it's not actual mitten weather, but it doesn't seem too far off. It's getting to be a theme. It's Cold. I can't even tell you how sad I am about it. Anyhoo. Mittens are a fast project that makes a knitter feel like she's getting someplace, and I was in the mood for that yesterday. These were the work of a few hours at most. Result!


Easy, plain mittens in bulky yarn from the stash cupboard--this yarn is leftover from The Chunk, which originally came from a thrifted pullover that I unraveled, the remains of which was then dyed by Michelle and me last fall with indigo. Yum! This yarn is some kind of blend I'm not sure about--it definitely has some animal hair in it, maybe angora? Something wooly, maybe with cotton or possibly acrylic? I don't know. There are probably ways to tell, including having looked at the tag in the original garment before discarding it; that would no doubt have lent a clue or two. Naturally, I didn't do that, so we are left to wonder.

In case you're already anticipating needing a new pair of mittens, and you'd like to make a pair of these too, here's the pattern I made up as I went:

July Mittens

You'll need: approximately 150 yards bulky weight yarn (or twice as much worsted weight, held double); a set of 4 dpns, US size 9; tapestry needle, US I/5.5mm crochet hook.

Gauge for this project is 3 sts/inch.

*Instructions are for the LEFT mitten, with RIGHT mitten instructions in parentheses ().

On dpns, CO 24, divide stitches among three needles, join for working in the round. Work eight rounds, or about two inches, in stockinette stitch.


K8 (16), m1, k to end of round.

Knit 2 rounds even.

K8 (16), m1, k1, m1, k to end of round.

Knit 2 rounds even.

K8 (16), m1, k3, m1, k to end of round.

Knit 2 rounds even.

K8 (16), m1, k5, m1, k to end of round.

Knit 2 rounds even.

K8 (16), m1, k7, m1, k to end of round.

Knit 2 rounds even.

Divide for hand/thumb:

K8 (16), place next 10 sts on holder, CO 2, k to end of round (25 sts on needles).

Knit 26 rounds on 25 sts.

Mitten Cap:

K2tog around to last st, k1 (13 sts).

K2tog around, k1 (7 sts).

Cut yarn, leaving a 12" tail. Thread the tail onto a tapestry needle and run the yarn through all remaining stitches. Go around them again for extra security. Tighten and fasten off.


Put 10 held stitches on needles. Pick up and knit 1 stitch at side of gusset, 2 CO sts, 1 stitch at other side of gusset (14 sts on needles).

Working in the round, K4 (8), k2tog, k2, k2tog, k4 (0). (12 sts on needles).

Knit 9 rounds.

K2tog around (6 sts remain). Break yarn, leaving a 12" tail. Thread the tail onto a tapestry needle and run the yarn through all remaining stitches. Go through them again for extra security. Tighten and fasten off.

Cuff edge:

Using a US I/5.5mm crochet hook, work sc in each CO stitch at cuff. Join with a sl st and fasten off. Weave in all ends.

DIY Note: These mittens were designed to fit my average-sized female hands. If you want to make bigger mittens, you can simply increase the number of CO stitches--try 26, 28 stitches--and adjust at the gusset by continuing as set to k8 (16), m1, k9, m1, k to end of round, etc. Knit more rows to make them taller. You can try them on as you go; continue to work plain rounds of stockinette until the last row is at the very top of your tallest finger, then work the cap. For smaller mittens, do the opposite. If you really want to make sure they'll fit, make a gauge swatch and measure your hand. Multiply the number of stitches per inch in your swatch by the desired number of inches around at the cuff. I wanted my cuff to measure 8" around, and my gauge came in at 3 sts/inch, and 3 x 8 = 24. You can do it. I believe in you!


Now, maybe this will be like bringing an umbrella to a baseball game and we'll have a summer day, chock full of actual warmth and maybe a touch of humidity to lend a certain je ne sais quoi to the spectacular mess that is my hair. Fingers crossed.

Monday, July 13, 2015

Philadelphia Girl

As you know, my girl lives in Philadelphia, a city not known for the gentle and the pastoral. It is known for quite a few things, I suppose--Cheez Whiz, mispronouncing "water", violent crime. Philly has a tough reputation, and I've seen Rocky, I had a few ideas about it. When she left home last fall, I wept buckets of nostalgic tears for her now-distant childhood and lay awake at night worrying and imagining all the awful things that could happen to a girl from the country living on her own in the big city. I could not fathom that we had raised her here in the woods and orchards and then waved tearfully from the porch as she drove off with her cat and her anime posters to a life in the concrete jungle. Guess what, though? Philadelphia is great, and my girl is great, too. She walks twenty blocks like it's nothing; she takes the train to Penn's Landing to watch the Independence Day fireworks (what better place to be on July 4 than in Philadelphia?) She drives her car in the city like a fearless ninja, parallel parking like a boss. She visits the zoo, the art museums. She knows where there is a Chipotle. A few weeks ago, she met Pete Wentz in Starbucks. Nothing stops her. She uncomplainingly hiked with me to Chinatown in 90 degree heat for [be still, my heart] soup dumplings, which was six mouthfuls of heaven. The molten interior of a soup dumpling can take the top layer off your tongue, and you are guaranteed to look like a miserable amateur while trying to eat them, but people? They are completely worth the fourteen blocks of walking to get there, and the minor burns sustained while eating. Soup dumplings. Get some.

I am living a lovely life out here in the country with my chickens and my cherry tree and my sunlit garden, but a big city is a wonderful place, too, and maybe it's because that's where she is, but right now, Philadelphia is the wonderfulest. Plus, I knit a whole pair of socks in the car on the way there and back. Snap.

Friday, July 10, 2015

Stranded color work, and learning



I'm working lately on stranded knitting. This is the opposite of the garter stitch blanket; it involves charts and pencils and markers and figuring and measuring and ripping back. Sometimes, I need that kind of work, too, an interesting project that keeps me thinking. There's no looking away from it, so I can't work on it while we watch American Horror Story [Yiiiiikes! So creeeeeepy! I might be too chicken for that show! I'm scared of my own basement now!] but it goes really well with coffee and This American Life, which is much more my usual speed.



There's nothing for it but to spread out all over the table and make everyone eat their dinner off their laps because my papers and markers and stuff are all over every flat surface--don't move that, I'm workiiiiing!--but watching the design emerge from what seems in the beginning like a mess is pretty fun. I keep stopping to look at it, even though it is a (pre-blocked) puckered and crumpled pile, and to say oooh, aaahhh! Look! Value contrast! It's so satisfying.

As you know, this is an area where I struggle, and since I don't like to struggle, I am giving myself a crash course in stranded colorwork this week. It's difficult, at least for me, to look beyond color and see the value differences--I see pink and think "Well, pink is a 'light' color, right?" I'm determined to learn to recognize it.

Shooting in black and white mode helps. All of a sudden, aha! See how the first three are pretty much the same? The bells go off in my head. Learning is happening.

I arranged these in what I thought was the correct order, ranging from light to dark, and then shot it in black and white to see how I did. You can see I had a couple wrong at the dark end of the range.

Once the values are all sorted out, it's time to figure out a pattern--Alice Starmore has already done a lot of hard work there, so I just get her to help me with the charts. That book is a wonderful resource. Then, there's measuring, a little math, and away we go.

This should keep me busy for awhile.

Tuesday, July 7, 2015

Sock Ramble

I made socks. Wait, that's not the right color...

That's not really right, either; there's no blue in this yarn (Indulgence with Aloe--yum--in Color 110, also known by me as Watermelon Christmas) and I don't know what all that other stuff is doing in the picture [this is a pack of lies: it is a sad attempt at finding other things around the house that match the socks, and then trying to curate a pretty little collection for a nice photo. There is not one thing in this house that matches the socks. They are a freaky anomaly, but I was under the influence of a hex--the Great 70% Off Sale of 2012, actually--this is almost the last of that loot] but it is very soft (hint: it's the aloe) and it didn't pool at all. You would have bought it, too.

In case you're wondering, this yarn is actually fuchsia, cream, tan, forest green, and a minty/limey green, which, now that I'm describing it, seems crazy. And it's great to have a new pair of socks, but it's (finally!) too hot for socks right now. Maybe tomorrow. It's so hot, in fact, that I got distracted by all the unfamiliar sweating and shot about three days' worth of photos with the aspect ratio somehow in the square mode, without noticing at all. Well, there you go. Square photos.

The sock pattern is my usual; 60 stitches worked on US 1 needles, with a gusset heel, although now that I can see how tight they look across my 47-year-old insteps, it seems like it might be time to either change to 64 stitches or else give up bacon. And since I'm actually eating bacon at this exact minute, you can probably guess which way that's going to go.



Thursday, July 2, 2015

Project Evolution

This project has evolved. Originally, I meant to make something Purl Soho-ish, beginning with the acid green and with plans to move through mustards, creams, and soft pinks. I was going to work on it now and then, when I just felt like crocheting something, okay, and it was going to be smallish, maybe throw-sized. There was no end game, because I didn't know who or what it was for, but sometimes, honestly, that is beside the point. Critically, though, it ended up being much wider than the plan called for, and the mustard yarn I chose was wrong--too thick, and also not really interesting enough. I guess I need my mustard to be more complex. And it turned out to be a fairly yucky acrylic, and working with it was terrible, so it went in the donations bag and I turned to Plan B--shop the stash. The back of the cupboard has for years hidden quite a few bags full of yarns that had either been unraveled and recycled from other, older projects, or had failed to ever become anything at all--some Blue Sky cotton, some gold Cascade 220 Superwash, and a bunch of Wool-ease, which I once upon a time bought in sweater quantities, before realizing that I really did prefer to knit with wool. So the blanket became a dumping ground for all the unwanted hangers-on in the cupboard, and nothing about it pleased me more than to deplete the stash of all those weird things, meanwhile granny-striping my way happily back and forth and keeping my lap all warm while I worked, which was nice because it was January and the cozy work of a huge crochet blanket project is quite welcome in the depths of a northern hemisphere winter. But it became hard to stay interested, and I stopped working on it much. Since I can't really crochet without looking, I couldn't fall back on my habit of making progress while binge-watching Netflix, and it had grown huge, which made it a poor candidate for a travel project. I was not/am still not sure about the color scheme--maybe it is nothing but a blanket full of yarn I don't really like? And then the lack of purpose began to haunt me. Where will this thing end up? Why am I spending my time on it? What do I want it for?

There is beauty in the process of things, I know this. Sometimes, the only value a yarn project has for me is in the work of it--making design decisions, or figuring out an interesting construction, or sometimes just the plain and simple effort of putting the stitches down, one at a time. Sometimes, there is tremendous comfort in the stitching itself, and that is enough. That's what happened here. Even though I still don't know what will become of it in the end, or whether I will finish it this week or even this year, it is there when I want the simple pleasure of crocheting with yarn. I have unraveled whole (or practically whole) blankets that bored me, to recycle the yarn, and I eventually might do that this time, too, or I might not. I really don't need any more blankets, and I'm not really sure yet how it's in any way better to have less stash to deal with but more blankets to deal with, but I do need to crochet something. Besides which, it is only 65 degrees F today [FOUL! IT IS JULY!] and the coziness of a lapful of yarn has got a certain (seasonally regrettable) appeal. All that is good enough for now.