Sunday, September 27, 2009

Sock yarn prizes are awesome.

I've won a prize in the House Cup for my Monet Mitts!

I'm terrifically excited about the prize, too: my pick of one of pacasha's sock yarns from her etsy shop. I've already told her which one is my favorite, but it was a hard decision. Can you guess which one I chose?

Thanks, vberry, for nominating those mitts for a prize. I'm very flattered, and I'm having an excellent time so far with the Cup!

Another update soon, I hope. I just got back into town and I'm leaving again for a week on Friday, but in between wondering where all my white socks have gone and imperfectly timing the depletion of groceries, I plan to post some more pics.

Today's Happy Point Count: 56. Unpacking my suitcase right after I return home has always been such a challenge... until now!

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Bylines: Interweave Knits

I just got word in the comments section that Interweave Knits Weekend has arrived in a few mailboxes. If you've got an eagle-eye, you'll notice that I contributed the Ravelings feature to this issue!

The column is about how I combine motivation to finish housework and my yarn addiction to great effect. Seriously -- great effect.

I employ what is known around our household as the "Happy Point System." (To learn more, pick up a copy of the magazine.) I've been itching to write about Happy Points since I first started using them for myself, and now I can mention them freely. To that end, you might even start to see the occasional Happy Point counter at the bottom of a blog post.

Welcome, new readers. Thanks for visiting.

Today's Happy Point Count: 45. Took a big hit on our honeymoon in June; still recovering.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

New Design: Monet Mitts

Strong color variegation and color pooling make for two of the trickiest challenges in knitting, in my book. I love the sight of bright blues and muted browns in the same skein, or bright pinks and subtle greens together. Yet when they are knit up, often I am disappointed in the awkward color pooling or a muddy mix of the shades in the colorway. True, it’s a personal-preference thing—lots of knitters love that look—but I know many knitters who sadly turn down a creatively dyed skein because, like me, they’re worried about how the end product could ever be something they’d enjoy.

After shopping at a professional dyer’s studio on vacation this summer, I walked away in possession of two skeins of yarn with sharp contrast: deep blues to lime green, and bright pinks to yellows. For me it was an unusual choice, but an idea occurred to me. What if you use a particular stitch to deliberately pool the colors and highlight certain shades?

The colors of the blue-to-green skein put me in mind of Monet’s Nymphéas series of paintings - you know, the ones with the water lilies. The inexact nature of impressionist depiction is helpful, because it concentrates more on how light hits objects at a particular moment in time rather than sharp, clear lines delineating each object.

From this concept, I created the Monet Mitts.

They are standard fingerless gloves with 2x1 ribbing at the cuff and top edge and a gusset for the thumb. Wherever I encountered three or four inches of lime green in the yarn, I made a daisy stitch to bring out the color. After, I used bits from the pink-to-yellow skein to embroider small blooms on the lily pads.

Here is an image from Monet’s Nymphéas (1904), for comparison:

This concept could be made to work with a variety of colorways to create the impression of clouds against the sky, wildflowers sprinkled across a meadow, or any other irregular color patterns occurring in nature.

What follows is more of a tutorial than a pattern, because it relies so heavily on a specific type of yarn that may not be widely available.

I used Sweetgeorgia Yarns Superwash Sport in the Lake Park colorway for these gloves; again, it’s not a mass-produced yarn, so keep your eyes out for another yarn that would work. You’ll know you’ve got a good yarn if the contrast color (the one you want for your “lily pads”) appears in sections of about three or four inches for lighter weight yarns, and up to six inches for worsted yarns. The contrast color should occur roughly once every twelve to thirty-six inches. I don’t possess enough skill as a dyer to create my own yarn for this sort of project, but for those dyers who do, this is the basic look you want in your yarn.

Here's a picture of how long a stretch of contrasting color you'll be looking at for this stitch pattern:

I’ll write up the directions for these exact gloves at the bottom, but keep in mind that the technique can be applied to most any knitted project you please: gloves, hats, cowls, even sweaters if you’re so inclined. Refer to designers such as Ann Budd or Elizabeth Zimmerman who have provided reliable basic templates for knitted garments.

For gloves, cast on the required number of stitches, and knit the first round in regular ribbing. After that first round, you can begin with the daisy stitch each time you come across a section of contrast color.

Daisy stitch: k3tog but keep stitches on left needle, yo, and k3tog into same three stitches.

On the following round, when you get to the daisy stitch, just knit across the tops of all three stitches. If you’re in the ribbing section, still knit across the top of the daisy stitch; wait until the following round to return to the ribbing.
Don’t work any daisy stitches on your bind-off round.

Now, not to be confusing, but to make those little blooms, take a yarn in a sharply contrasting color and do what cross-stitchers refer to as a "lazy daisy stitch." Yup, daisies all around. All you do is make a loop, and before pulling the yarn all the way through, you catch it with the needle.

You know what? Here's a tutorial. :) Main thing is, do two of them overlapping.

Here’s a close-up of the (lazy) daisy stitch(es):

Here are some “special situations” you might encounter:

The yarn has me lined up to knit a daisy stitch directly on top of another daisy stitch. You can either knit across and let the contract color blend in with the daisy stitch below, or you can go ahead and k3tog into the lower daisy stitch. The result of the second option will look messy, but it might also be something that works if you’re looking for an impressionist-like effect.

The section of contrast color is too long for the three stitches of the daisy stitch. Try wrapping the yarn around the right needle an extra time on your YO. That will create four loops from the daisy stitch; when you come around again on the next round, treat that middle loop as you would a drop-stitch, and only knit into one loop. Let the other go loose, which will in turn loosen up the entire daisy stitch.

Here's what the four-loop stitch daisy stitch will look like, while the loops are still live:

If you have even more of the contrast color to work with, then you can k3tog, yo, k3tog, yo, k3tog, which will create five loops from a single daisy stitch. This increases two stitches, so on the next round, knit the rightmost loop of the daisy stitch together with its neighbor to the right, and do a ssk with the leftmost loop of the daisy stitch and its neighbor to the left. That will decrease two stitches, giving you the correct number overall.

Daisy stitch makes my knuckles hurt. Mine, too. Sorry to hear it. Put the project down for a day and go work on some therapeutic lace instead.

For those looking for a basic glove pattern, here is what I did, in plain English.

I cast on 36 stitches and knit one round in 2x1 ribbing. I knit 2.25 inches of ribbing, then increased one (to get to an odd number) on the first round of stockinette.

After that first stockinette round, knit halfway around (in my case, 18 stitches). Place a marker, incr 1, k1, incr 1, place a marker, and knit to the end. Knit two rounds.

Now increase one stitch at each marker every three rounds until you have a total of 49 stitches. This creates your thumb gusset. Knit more stockinette until the gloves are long enough for your hands—usually another three rounds—and put the thumb stitches on some scrap yarn. Knit the hand in stockinette until it’s 6.75 inches, increasing every three rows until you have 39 stitches. Knit six rounds of 2x1 ribbing, and bind off with a Russian cast-off, or another loose or stretchy bind-off technique.

Go back to the thumb and pick up the 13 stitches, plus a few on the inside of the thumb to close up the gap between thumb and hand. Knit four rounds of stockinette, decreasing once each round until you have 15 stitches. Knit two rounds of 2x1 ribbing, and bind off as above.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

FO: It's disgusting. I'm warning you!

I never in a million years thought I'd go this far.

The House Cup has begun (Go Ravenclaws! Woot!). We have six classes, a Quidditch tournament, and optional OWLs. It's quite a workload -- and a positively stupid amount of fun. Stick the House Cup blog in your readers if you'd like to follow along!

I have already turned in my first assignment, this one for Defense Against the Dark Arts, along with the required essay. (Note: It's disgusting, and you've been warned.)

Every summer for wizards and witches living in Texas features at least one battle with the infamous cockiroaccus villiferous (common name: evil cockroach). A close cousin to what is more commonly known among muggles as “just a plain old cockroach,” the evil cockroach does in fact possess disturbing magical properties, despite all the jerks out there who keep claiming, “What? It can’t hurt you.” Little do they know.

The evil cockroach is found in Texas, Mexico, and the equatorial region of the Western hemisphere (unlike its non-magical cousin, which is more widespread). It is approximately two inches in size, not counting the antennae, and moves at short bursts of speeds up to 30 mph (48 kph). Known magical properties include causing the human skin to crawl (see endnotes re: documented case of Miss Garabella Gordon, whose epidermis crawled four meters to the left before returning to its proper place upon vanquishing the evil cockroach); flight; psychic devastation, or the dementor-like removal of all coherent thought from any sentient beings who catch sight of it; and, on occasion, a bite that causes chronic nightmares in the victim for years to come.

The evil cockroach primarily lives outside and feasts on basically anything. Because of a serious overpopulation in the Texas region, they often encroach on wizard and witch habitats, appearing underfoot at the absolute worst possible time.

The evil cockroach is vanquished in one of a few ways. The swift, heartless application of a shoe is effective but leaves a mess that can have almost the same effect as the live organism. Pesticides derived from the magical raidius spraecano plant are effective, if applied with good aim. Curiously enough, the summoning of a patronus also banishes the evil cockroach with little mess, thus proving the oft-preferred method among wizard and witches. Researches speculate that the patronus works on this dementor-like creature because of its ability to instill irrational fear; studies are forthcoming.

My own recent experience includes an encounter with an evil cockroach. Despite unflagging efforts at cleanliness in my home, one such creature was found in the kitchen.

As I am particularly susceptible to the evil cockroach’s dastardly powers, I called for my husband to come kill it. He came to my aid.

“Is it a boggart or the real thing?” he asked. He is aware that boggarts typically appear to me as an evil cockroach.

“I don’t care!” I screeched. “Just do something about it.”

“Expecto patronum,” he said with a flick of his wand. His patronus, a big orange cat, appeared at the end of his wand, took one look at the evil cockroach, and in a fit of disinterest, went to the couch where he promptly started grooming himself.

“That stupid cat,” I grumbled.

“What? He’s cute,” my husband protested, and went over to play with the cat, who eagerly received his behind-the-ear scratches until he dissipated.

“Fine, I’ll do it myself,” I said. I pulled out my wand, and I summoned my courage. “Expecto patronum!” I shouted. (Shouting the spell in a blind rage can often increase its strength against the evil cockroach.)

My patronus appeared, a cute little chimp.

He ambled over to the cockroach, picked it up, and smashed it on the counter. The evil cockroach turned over onto its back and began wiggling its legs, a sign that it is close to death.

My patronus didn’t want to wait, however; with one hand, he pounded the bug into many pieces before eating the remains and then vanishing.

Though I still shudder at the memory of this spectacle, I hope my account will add to any efforts to help the wizarding world avoid any further encounter with the evil cockroach.

Epilogue: If I see it out of the corner of my eye, this FO still gives me the willies, and I’m the one who made it! Fortunately, an editor I occasionally write for enjoys a fascination with insects and spiders. I have already sent it to him.

kitty pic used with permission from martinimade.

ETA: I forgot the real project info!

I free-formed this little critter. In fact, it was a disgusting experience to make him, once I had to sew together the body to the back. (No, I'm not going to look up scientific terms for cockroach anatomy, because that would involve looking at pictures of real ones, nothankyou.) I used Knit Picks Shadow (laceweight) for the body, legs, and antennae, and Plymouth Yarns Encore DK for the body and head.

I was going to describe the process I followed to make the thing, but you know what? Not gonna! There are enough of the real ones in this world without anybody else going and knitting up a fake one.

I'm off to play with lace before dinner -- something that doesn't have legs!

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

A Romantic FO: Storm Water Scarf

Sunday evening I finished my Storm Water Scarf, precisely one year after I cast on.

Funny story, that: my then-boyfriend and I were set to leave town for a quick trip down to San Antonio. Like any good knitter, I was scrambling to prepare a project to take on the road. As many others have found, winding Handmaiden Sea Silk into a ball with a swift can be disastrous--and this day, it was. I called my fella in a panic, telling him, "Don't worry! I'll be there! It's just, it's the yarn, it's all screwed up!"

Here's the funny part: my fella was at his (now our) apartment, waiting for the third hand-delivery of an engagement ring. It was the third delivery because the shop screwed it up twice: first they ordered the wrong ring. The second time they forgot the engraving. By the third time, my fella made it clear that they needed to bring it to him, in time for him to take it with us to San Antonio on THAT DAY. It was ten minutes before we were to leave, and still no ring.

Mind you, I had no clue about any of this. I did not take him ring shopping at any time. Total surprise, all around, and very sweet.

"Take all the time you need," he told me calmly.

"Thanks," I said. "You're the best."

Fortunately, the ring arrived. We had a beautiful, lovely time, and I can't think of any time ever in my life when I've enjoyed such a beautiful surprise.

Oh, and the yarn? I got it worked out, too.

I wore it out on a sort-of anniversary date last night to El Chile. After, we went to the Amy's Ice Cream where we met, and wow: the gal serving us asked me about it, and a couple in line liked it so much she asked for my card to see if I could make one for her, too. Not bad for a fresh FO!

pattern: Storm Water Scarf by Nancy Lobban.
yarn: Handmaiden Fine Yarns Sea Silk (fingering; 70% silk, 30% Seacell; color: Pale Autumn).
finished: August 30, 2009.
needles: size 8 bamboo circs. The yarn is slick enough that the bamboo made a difference.
mods: I ignored the direction to alternate between ends of the skein every other row. I think that's to prevent bad color pooling, but I didn't have a problem with it.