Branden and I drove out to Rhinebeck yesterday with a couple of friends for the NY Sheep and Wool festival. The market seemed quieter this year, but that might be because we got there after the first morning rush. There was still plenty to do and see, and it was nice having (a little) less jostling and jockeying for position inside the barns.

As usual, I didn’t take very many pictures. It’s always fun to scope out the knitwear, but I don’t like to take photos of other people without their permission, and it seemed that there wasn’t quite as much on display as usual. (I have this sneaking suspicion that I might be becoming a Rhinebeck old timer, constantly going on about how it was different in the old days…)

I did notice that a lot of rust and green color combinations were calling to me, and yellow was surprisingly attractive, too. My one yarn purchase stayed pretty true to form, though….blues and grays, even if I did spring for a little bit of an acid green.

I went into the festival without any plans for what to buy. I usually have a theme of one kind or another, but this year there wasn’t really anything that I needed, and so I left it open to serendipity. A few barns into the festival, we stopped at the O-Wool booth, where I was sold by a swatch. It was just a simple stockinette square knit from the O-Wool fingering weight yarn on size 00 needles. The fabric was just beautiful. Good drape, very soft, and beautifully springy. (I think it was the springy that got me, in the end.)

I know better than to buy one-off skeins. I’ve done this often enough at festivals to know that a single skein or pair of skeins will sit in my stash forever, no matter how much I love the yarn. It’s sweaters that get knit. But did I want to knit a sweater with 8-9 sts to the inch? Well, kinda, actually…yeah.

I’ve been needing a lot of mindless knitting lately, and the more I knit with tiny needles the more I love them. (I may have spent a couple of hours investigating sources for sub-0000 needles recently…) Miles and miles of tiny stockinette might be just the thing. Throw in a little colorwork, and it was hard to say no.

And so, 2568 yards (21 ounces) of the base color came home with me, along with a few skeins of accent yarns for the colorwork. I have no idea how many yards it will actually take to knit a sweater at that gauge, but I’m hoping that that’s enough. It seems like it should be, right?

Just look at these colors:

The color names are Appalachian Stone (dark gray for the body), Night Heron (dark blue), Brook Trout (light blue), Black Bear (black/dark brown, depending on the light), and that beautiful green is called Arrowgrass.

I was also tempted by some Astral (just look at that shine, and those colors!), but decided to hold off on that one until I have a project for it. I’m pretty sure I saw some of this at Wisconsin Sheep and Wool back in 2011, and have often thought about using it since. At least now I know what it’s called!

The Fiber Optic booth is always hard to resist, and Just Our Yarn is one of my favorite stops. And I love everything in the Briar Rose booth. In each case, though, I decided to wait until I have a project in mind…the O-wool should be more than enough to keep me busy until the next Rhinebeck, don’t you think?

I did notice this shop sample of a Stephen West pattern in the Fiber Optic booth. I’m thinking that this might be a good alternative project for the neon slip stitch project if I decide that my own design just won’t work.

I also noted the gauge of his fabric (you can see how open it is in the photo…light shines right through it). My preference is always to knit at a pretty firm gauge, but a more open fabric might get me a bit more fabric for my yardage, which would be helpful with that particular set of yarns. Something to think about, anyway.

My favorite thing about fiber festivals is finding ideas that are new or unexpected. This year, it was a really interesting knit/woven shrug by Koochi Ku (looks like her site is undergoing some maintenance at the moment).

The weaver in me was very intrigued by this fabric. It’s made from a simple stockinette ground fabric, with a heavy weight accent yarn woven in during the knitting. The knit base fabric keeps all of the stretch and flexibility of knitting, but the primary design element looks like a weave. The artist said that she knits the ground fabric on a loom, and then lays in the accent yarn as she goes. The end result is a fabric with a beautiful, open feel and nice drape, but the very low-spin accent yarn thickens it up enough to be nice and warm. I just love the colorplay in the accent yarn, too; I very often prefer a weave pattern for showing off a handpainted yarn.

I think it would be possible to do something like this with a slipped stitch technique, though it would take a little engineering to figure it out. I thought it was a really beautiful piece, and an interesting way of mixing two different textile forms to make something new.

Instead of knitting at home this week, I’ve been spinning. I think I mentioned in the last post that I had started spinning up some Shetland lambswool that’s been hanging around for a few years now, and I’ve been focusing on that instead of new knitting projects.

I am always surprised at how fast fiber spins up, especially when it’s a nice, fluffy top like this one is. I’ve just finished up the light oatmeal color (this is the same color I used to knit the Embroidered sweater). It’s a fingering-weight 2-ply, and I got 1348 yards out of 556 g (just over 1 lb) of wool. Forgive my mixed units there, but my niddy noddy is in yards and measuring the weight of fiber is much more precise in grams than in pounds and ounces.

Even after knitting a sweater in it, the oatmeal is still the color that I have the most of, by far. I have 113 g of the dark brown, 360 g of a medium brown, and 225 g of a pale fawn color that’s just a tiny bit different than the oatmeal. All of those together add up to 698 g, so I’m just under halfway there.

Considering that the last sweater used up just a tiny bit more than the 1500 yds I originally spun for it, I should have more than enough for a second sweater by the time I’m done. Until then, I’m just enjoying feeling the flow of fiber through my fingers. This week, it will be fun to watch the colors changing as well.

This has been a quiet week, knit-wise. Not a whole lot that’s new and exciting going on.

I snipped a couple of stitches and knit an extra inch or so onto the arms of my Seafoam sweater.

They sat just a little higher than I’d like all last season, so I figured I might as well fix that before the wool-wearing begins again.

I started working on a new scarf in another mindless lace (two row pattern, and they only differ by a stitch).

I’m not sure that I love how the color change is playing with the lace pattern; it actually shows up a lot more in the photo than it does in real life. I’m hoping that blocking will help with that, though. I do love the color, which is slightly more red and less purple than is shown in the photo.

And I’m doing some spinning.

This spinning is a bit unusual in that I have a lot of wool to get through and no specific project in mind. It’s the same shetland lambswool that I used for the Embroidered sweater. I bought several pounds of it at Green Castle in 2012, with the intention of knitting one plain oatmeal-colored sweater (check) and one colorwork sweater. I think I have 4 or 5 different colors in the closet, and it’s some of the only wool in the house not in a plastic bin (the way the balls of roving are wound makes it hard to fit). Since I liked the yarn weight that I used for the embroidered sweater, I decided to just spin the rest of it up at the same weight; a slightly heavy fingering weight 2-ply. It will be easier to store, and then when I’m ready to knit it will be all ready to go. In the meantime, it’s a nice mindless evening project, and there’s plenty of wool left to go!

Anything exciting on your needles?

After its long, long wait for attention, the Flower hat is now available on Ravelry. It needed a new name, so I looked up the botanical name for a flower with 6 petals: hexamerous. That seemed unlikely to be taken and appropriately geeky, but I couldn’t resist adding in a little word play. The final name is Hexamorous…who doesn’t love a hexagon?

My favorite part of pattern writing is seeing what other knitters do with a design. I chose a very strongly variegated (and slightly stripey) yarn for the crown of the hat, but that’s certainly not the only choice. Walden knit hers with stripes of different colors, which really accentuated the geometry of the increases and decreases.

I don’t think I ever would have thought to put that peach stripe in there, but it’s amazing how much it helps the colors pop!

Laura’s version is a bit more similar to my own, in that it uses a variegated yarn.

That’s about where the similarity ends, though! Her yarn was much more subtly variegated, and it gives the hat a completely different feel. The decrease ribs really seem to stand out in this version, and I love how the dark blue frames the light green crown.

YarnyDragonfly chose a yarn with a long color repeat and slightly softer tones for her hat. Her yarn was also slightly fuzzy, which underplays the structure of the pattern and really lets the color keep the spotlight. She kept right on going in the crown colorway rather than switching to a contrasting yarn for the body of the hat.

I love all three of the test knit versions…if there’s one you particularly love, head on over to their blog or project page and let them know!

And, if you’re eager to try a version of your own, the pattern is available on the Desigknit Pattern page on Ravelry. Thanks so much to all of the test knitters for helping me to get this one out the door!

This has turned out to be a productive couple of weeks, knitting-wise. Back in the spring, my very knit-worthy aunt had asked me for a scarf knit from my handspun. We sat down with the color cards and she picked out a color that she thought would work well, and I spun up some yarn and dyed it.

Unfortunately, the color came out a bit lighter than I’d intended, and I wasn’t sure that it was right. So, I put it aside to ponder for a while, and moved on to other things.

When I was getting ready for TwinSet Summer Camp, I grabbed a braid of roving to spin. I only had 4 ounces, and it wasn’t quite the color I’d been looking for, but as I spun it I started to think that perhaps that really was the one.

I finished spinning it a few weeks ago (there was a long hiatus in between), and cast on for a scarf.

I soon realized, though, that I didn’t have enough yardage for a scarf in the 4 ounce skein that I had on hand. I did some calculations, and switched to a cowl. I wasn’t sure how a cowl would work for my aunt, but figured I’d give it a try; I could always knit up something else for her if it didn’t work out.

By the time I finished the cowl, I was kind of in love with it, but I was also less sure that it was right for her. (I like to think that those two thoughts are unrelated.)

So, I cast on for a scarf in the original yarn, figuring I’d offer her the option and could always overdye the scarf later if that’s what she wanted.

It turns out that she was planning to be in town in September (she lives out of state), and so I went down for a visit last weekend. My second thoughts were right; she loved the color of the scarf, but the cowl had a bit too much gray in it.

I got right down to work, and by Tuesday, I had finished the knitting. This is the second week of the semester, which means that I have my commute back (with enforced knitting time), and it is not yet crazy enough that I spend the whole commute grading or sleeping. So, this was the perfect time to get a couple of quick projects off the needles.

The cowl was knit on size 5 needles, and took 300 yards (4 oz) of Rambouillet 3-ply yarn. The scarf was knit on size 6’s, and took 400 yards (8 oz) of Finn 2-ply yarn in a slightly heavier weight. (Grist is an amazing thing.) After blocking, the cowl is 36 x 12 inches, and the scarf is 60 x 14.5″. Both use the “Tracery pattern” lace from Barbara Walker’s second stitch dictionary (p 308). The cowl is 12 repeats of the lace, and the scarf is 4 (plus a second stockinette stitch at the edges). The pattern was simple enough that I’d memorized it within a couple of repeats, and it made good conversation knitting as well as train knitting. (I love projects like that. And really, I love anything that involves leaf lace.)

My needles have been empty now for a couple of days, and they’re aching for something new. I thought I had a project all planned, but it turned out that I had more yarn than I need for the project I was planning on, and decided I’d rather wait until I find something that will use all of it instead. So it’s back to waiting and thinking, looking for a new project to take into next week.

We all have them: projects that seem inspired at the time, and less-than-inspiring later. There are the ones that don’t turn out the way you expect, and the ones where you pushed the envelope a little too far. And then there are those where the execution just didn’t live up to the dream, for whatever reason (materials, skill, maybe a little of both…).

I can usually see a dud coming, and rip back in time. But not always.

I knit this sweater back in 2008. I knew as soon as I finished it that it was bigger than I’d intended, but I thought there was a chance I’d wear it anyway. (That was my first mistake: excessive hope.) This was also my first lesson in shaping oversized garments. In a word, don’t: it makes them look too big rather than comfortably baggy. If you must shape, do it subtly.

I wore the sweater for a few months, maybe a season after I knit it, and never since. In the meantime, I’ve lost about 50 pounds, and what was once big is now hopelessly huge.

The second sweater is of roughly the same vintage.

This was my first sweater on tiny needles. (Or at least they felt tiny at the time…looking back, they were size 3’s, which now feel pretty big.) It is also my only sweater in 100% alpaca yarn. I thought when I knit it that it might be too warm. That is not a problem. As someone who is always cold, an extra-warm sweater is something to be prized, not ignored. And yet, I never wear this.

The problem is with the yarn itself. Being 100% alpaca, it is quite slippery, which makes it hard to hold a bag on my shoulder or push up a sleeve with my hip when my hands are full (yes, apparently that’s an important feature of a sweater for me. I had no idea, until suddenly I couldn’t). Wearing it is like being coated in oil; everything is slippery, slippery, slippery. The alpaca also has a lot of drape. You can’t see it here, but the sweater grew significantly during the first few wearings. When it first came off the needles, it fit fine. But the (lack of) structure in a yoked sweater knit in the round combined with the slipperiness of the yarn and a sligtly-less-firm-than-usual gauge to give me a 10-20% increase in size. This garment was shaped well for a loose fit, and I still think it’s flattering, even after the additional weight loss. But if you look at the picture above, you can see that there are almost two different shoulder lines; one that was intended, and the other that emerged as the sweater practically melted off of me.

I pulled out the neckline once and reknit it, but it didn’t help. I’ve thought of lots of different fixes, but at the end of the day this sweater just never gets worn.

The third sweater is slightly more recent (sorry for the dark photo).

I knit this one back in 2010-11, with yarn from an indie dyer whose work I love. I bought the yarn online, which I never do unless I’ve seen it in person first. I ordered BFL worsted, but what came was a high-twist fingering weight. Think socks that rock heavyweight. I have no idea if that is her usual worsted or if something happened with the labels by mistake. But I loved the yarn, and I loved the color, so I set out to knit a sweater even if it wasn’t quite what I expected. I knit at a dense gauge, because that’s what I always do on a sweater. And it came out heavy.

At first, I didn’t think that was a problem, but as I wore it the weight started to bother me. Also, there were some construction details I didn’t like. I reknit the sleevecaps. I reinforced the shoulder seams to do a better job of holding up the sweater’s weight. I added a bit of an edging to the neck opening to fix the way it hung. None of it really worked. Like the others, I wore it for a season, and haven’t really touched it since.

Especially on this last sweater, I still love these yarns. I liked the sweaters at one point or another, but my enthusiasm waned after the initial excitement of completion wore off. For years now, I’ve been considering ripping them out and releasing the yarn for another project. I never wear them, and they take up storage space. The construction/structural integrity issues make them garments that I’m not likely to give away. I’m not inclined to keep things around simply because they took time and effort to knit. If they don’t serve a purpose, they’re going to be culled.

This year, the time felt ripe. And so, this week my projects have been ones of deconstruction rather than knitting. I unpicked ends, pulled out seams, and frogged with abandon. I got through the first two sweaters, but have hesitated on the alpaca because I”m worried about felting. The other two were fairly smooth wool yarns, but I’m not sure how well frogging will go for a fuzzy, loosely spun alpaca. I’m still thinking about that one.

I really liked playing with the crimped wool skeins, but sadly they needed to be relaxed if I want to knit with them again. So, after the frogging came a bath.

And I now have two sweaters’ worth of yarn to restash. I’m not sure that I’ll knit with it again right away, but I am glad that it’s been converted back from useless, abandoned garment to yarn with great potential.

With fall weather fast approaching, it is again time for the autumn Washing of the Wool. This is a semi-annual event around here; everything gets one good wash on the way into storage in the spring and on the way out of it in the fall.

I wish I could cut that down to just one washing in the spring, since you wouldn’t think that wool would need another wash after sitting in a plastic bin for the summer, but I am quite allergic to dust mites and often find that natural fibers need a wash after being stored for a month or two. I’ve also been shocked at how much extra dirt comes out on a second washing, especially for sweaters that we wear all the time. At first I thought it was just dye leaking, but even our natural fibers managed to get the water pretty dirty, considering that they were washed thoroughly (or so I thought) just before they were put away.

The autumn washing also gives me a chance to go over everything with a careful eye to check for pulls, stains, and (heaven forbid) nibbles from insects that might have happened in the previous year of use. This year, I am also putting my Gleaner to good use depilling some fabrics that sorely need it.

The Washing of the Wool started out as a small, informal event, but has grown in size each year that I’ve done it. At this point, I think it merits capital letters in the title. For the past week, my office floor has looked like this almost every night:

The colors vary, of course, but I’ve managed to cover the whole floor with knitted items several times over. (I’m also washing my commercial wool sweaters, but most of it is handknits.) I think tonight will be the 5th load, and we’re finally getting close enough to see the end.

Last night, I was laying out the latest load and noticed my dressform standing in the corner. My striped shawl sweater is a challenge to block every year. I was running on yarn fumes at the end, and didn’t add as much ease to the hips as I normally would, and that combines with the natural shape of the unusual construction to make it difficult to block to a shape that’s 100% comfortable to wear. It’s also a form fitting sweater, which I loved at the time that I knit it, but lately I’ve been leaning more toward looser knits. (Surely I’m not the only one who swings wildly back and forth in style and fit from year to year?)

Last year, I blocked the sweater once, and it was much tighter than I wanted. So, I blocked it again firmly with lots of pins (I never use pins for sweaters), and then put it on while it was still slightly damp to let it dry to form. This helped a lot, but I ended up with zero ease around the hips, since it was my body that determined the final shape. In the end, it hugged my hips more than I wanted, and last year I hardly wore it at all.

When I saw the dressform standing there looking on, it occurred to me that this might be a way to block the sweater to the fit I want and avoid the not entirely pleasant process of wearing wet wool to shape it to my body. I wrapped her hips in rag rugs to add some extra bulk for ease (sorry for the dark photo, but there’s not all that much to see…)

and then zipped the sweater on.

24 hours of drying later, I think that this is the best blocking I’ve ever gotten for this sweater. The fabric actually has the give it needs to stretch, but it’s next to impossible to pin it out flat in a way that will get me there. The 3D dressform worked perfectly, and the rag rugs ensured that there’s enough room left over for a heavy shirt and pair of jeans underneath. Only time will tell if that helps to encourage me to actually wear the sweater this fall, but for now I am pretty thrilled with how the blocking turned out.

I will also be thrilled when this wool washing is over. Only 2 loads left to go?

Remember this?

Quite possibly not, I imagine. I wrote a pattern for this hat way back in 2010, which has since been sitting on my hard drive waiting for a final edit (yes, I needed to count stitches. It was terribly hard, and took all of 10 minutes).

I’m hoping that it will finally see the light of day this fall. Anyone interested in a test knit, to be finished by mid-September?

(If this one doesn’t grab you, stay tuned…I am hoping to have another coming out soon, but we all know how that goes…)

Edited to add: I am also still looking for a unique pattern name for this hat…suggestions are welcome!

In my current quest for a quick finish, I decided to take a little detour from knitting and work on some sewing for a while. With a simple pattern, you can have a sewn garment in a matter of hours, where a knitted one would take at least days if not weeks. Of course, being me, I didn’t take the simple route, even if I did choose a simple pattern.

My friend Heidi came over last week for some fiber play (we took a turn on her spinning wheel, mixed some batts, and generally had some fiber fun). She was wearing an embroidered linen tunic with a really simple construction that struck me as something that would be easy to make.

You might remember that sewing with handwoven fabrics is one of my long-term goals, and this shirt seemed like a really good candidate for handwovens. Minimal shaping and very basic design would make it an easy starter garment, and the rustic feel would work well with a coarse handwoven fabric. So, I set out to see what I could do.

Rather than start with a handwoven, I figured I’d develop the pattern with a commercial fabric. A quick trip to Joann’s got me a linen look blend, which has a slightly rustic feel but a nice weight and drape to it. It also has a pronounced simple weave structure, which is ideal for doing embroidery.

It’s been a long time since I’ve done pattern development from scratch. Twelve years ago I could have drafted a pattern in one go that would have worked, but my body has changed since then and my skills are a little rusty, so I decided to start out by using a little bit of a template.

I found a shirt in my closet with a fit that was kind of close to what I was going for, and started from there.

First, I laid the shirt out flat and traced the main body pieces onto paper, paying special attention to the armhole shaping.

After a bit of fussing with curves and adjusting the neckline to fit the design I wanted to make, I cut a muslin from scrap fabric.

This let me get my hands on the 3D garment and start planning how I’d deal with the shaping. I checked out how the new neckline worked, and figured out how the garment would hang with the adjustments I’d made. Once the basic body shape was roughed up, I turned my attention to the accent details that I wanted to be the focus of the garment.

I had a picture in my mind of a set of embroidered gathers as the main decorative and shaping element for the piece. I wanted something that would match the rustic cut of the garment, and that would let me do the shaping I needed without cutting the fabric. I also needed to see what the gathers would do to the 3D shape of the fabric.

First, I started with paper. I cut out a shape that roughly matched my neckline and started folding to see what did (and didn’t) work, and what size of gather gave me the amount of take up that I’d need in the end. Then, I took a couple of designs that I liked most and sampled them out on scrap fabric. This let me see how the gathers looked in actual fabric (without the benefit of any ironing or finishing techniques), and it let me try them on to see how the contours matched the actual shape of my body.

It turned out that this was a good idea, because both of the gathered patterns ended up making a strange point in the fabric that I wouldn’t have wanted in the middle of my chest. Placed more to the sides of the neck opening, that bump actually helped with the bust shaping. With feedback from the “swatches,” I went back and made the front of the actual garment, in the final fabric.

The gathers here are only placeholders, sewn in by hand as a temporary measure while I figure out the garment construction.

Eventually, I wanted to add embroidered details, and I had a leaning toward cross stitch. As I was wandering around my office, I noticed a weaving bobbin full of yarn that I’d used on a previous project. I really liked the colors, and the silk thread was about the right weight for the details I was looking for. So, I decided to try that in the swatch.

I really liked what I was getting, and the color changes of the variegated yarn sold me on using this one if I could. However, this is a knitting yarn made of silk, dyed in fairly intense colors. All of those things mean that it’s not optimized for embroidery. Most importantly, I wasn’t sure how colorfast it would be. That’s especially important when you’re stitching onto an off-white fabric, so I decided to do another test on the swatch.

I don’t really plan to wash this garment in hot water, but I wanted a margin of safety just in case. So, I washed the swatch in hot water, and this is how it came out.

Definitely glad that this wasn’t the actual garment!

My options at this point were either to change the thread, or to find a way to reduce the bleeding. Silk yarns (and especially ones with intense colors) often have extra dye in them that isn’t discharged during the dye process, but they’re often colorfast once that extra dye is released. With that in mind, I took a small skein of the yarn, and soaked it in hot water multiple times. Each time, the amount of dye released seemed to reduce, and the amount that blotted off onto a paper towel had almost disappeared after about 5 washes.

I started a new swatch to play with the hem accent design, and to test the wash fastness of the prewashed yarn. Here it is, after two washes (one in cold water, one in hot).

There’s still a tiny bit of bleeding on the hot water wash, but not nearly as much as the first time, so I think it’s probably safe to use.

Yesterday, I added some sleeves, finished up the back shaping, and sewed the hems on the garment itself.

At this point, all that’s left is finishing the neckline and adding the embroidery. Not exactly a quick finish, but it was fun to change gears for a while and polish up some rusty skills!

I don’t know about where you are, but here in Massachusetts we’re beginning to see the signs of fall. The maple seeds are browning up and falling from the trees. My bleeding hearts are yellowing and going into hibernation for the winter. The days are getting shorter, and there’s an unmistakable chill in the air. Usually we’d be in the middle of a heat wave around this time, but this year it seems that fall is coming more gently, and early.

To me, that means two things. First, summer is almost over, and a new semester is upon us. Any crafting time I want before the school year starts has to happen now, or not happen at all. It also means that it’s almost time to wear warm things again, so I’d better get knitting.

The Kneon cowl is coming along nicely at last. I’m well past the point where I pulled back, but you’d never be able to tell it from the photo. That’s how it is with moebius knitting; you just can’t see how far you’re getting until all of a sudden you’re done. At least it makes a nice, small project to take on the train to work with me on the days that I’m going in to campus.

The tiny needles and invisible progress weren’t helping with my sense of building pressure to make warm things, though. So, I returned to a project that had stalled, and started over.

I bought this yarn this spring from Coveted Yarn. It’s Plymouth Yarns Chunky Merino Superwash, and it is huge. I never knit bulky yarn or on big needles, so it’s amazing to me that I can polish off a ball of this in just a couple of hours. I abandoned the hexagon lace pattern that I’d been using before in favor of a simple 2×2 rib, and I’m really happy with the change. The lace just wasn’t popping the way I’d hoped it would, and the ribbing is working really well with the yarn.

I realized about 3/4 of a skein in that I could actually have gone back to my original width on the scarf (I’d decreased because the lace was eating up yarn too fast), but decided to just keep going full steam ahead. It means that I’ll probably have a skein left over and the scarf won’t be quite as wide as I’d like, but this is a project for progress.

The size 13 needles really do help with the progress, too. My hands don’t quite know what to do with needles that big, but the fabric is coming out beautifully at the looser gauge. There’s at least some hope that I’ll have one project done in time for fall!

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