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A few months ago, Ellen published a pattern using Tunisian crochet. Though I used to crochet a lot – and, in fact, for many years preferred crochet to knitting (that was before I discovered that knitting involved more than garter and stockinette rectangles), I have never tried Tunisian crochet. I’m always intrigued by a new technique, so I put it on the list of back-burner things to try someday. I figured I’d add some Tunisian crochet hooks to my Christmas list.

Christmas came and went, and I got some itty bitty needles, but no double-ended hooks. So, I made a trip to Amazon, and found a multi-pack.

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They only came in bamboo, which is not usually my first choice for fiber work, but the price was right and I figured it would be enough to tell me whether or not I like the technique…I can always purchase fancier hooks later on when I know more about what sizes I’ll want and what features I’m looking for. In the meantime, I have a full set of crochet hooks for the first time in years, and they can be used either as single or double pointed.

Also just before Christmas, my friend Teresa showed me some of her bead crochet jewelry. This was another use for crochet that I’d never seen before…I was intrigued. A few weeks ago, she gave me a bracelet that she’d made.

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Then she agreed to show me how to do it. Off to Amazon I went, in search of a tiny crochet hook for bead work. I found a multi-pack of itty bitty crochet hooks (to go with my itty bitty knitting needles). I will certainly never be limited for sizes.

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Teresa came over on Saturday, and we made a glorious mess on the dining room table for a few hours while the snow fell outside.

 

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This morning, I finished this:

 

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(Here’s a link to a video showing the basic technique, for the curious among you:  https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=oXpXqde-PKY)

Branden, ever the enabler, convinced me to go to a bead store today to get supplies for more projects. I knew that this was a dangerous idea from the start: that the first days of any new hobby are when I am most vulnerable to stash enhancement. (Observant enabler that he is, Branden knows this, too. He played his cards well.) I thought that a couple more projects wouldn’t hurt, so off we went.

I knew I was in deep trouble the moment we walked into the store. They had their winter clearance sale this weekend, and the whole seed bead wall was more than 60% off. And it was arranged in rainbows. (I am a sucker for rainbows.) I still can’t quite believe how much of that bead wall came home.

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I don’t think I’ll be running out of colors any time soon.

Branden’s basketweave sweater is complete.

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I finished weaving in ends this morning, and it has had its first day of use and been pronounced warm. This sweater was a long time coming, but I think it turned out pretty well in the end.

The scarf version is also coming along; it looks about the same as it did last time, except it’s a little longer now (I’m up to the halfway point). With another week of commute ahead of me, it should also be done soon!

Branden’s sweater is done! But it’s not blocked, so I don’t have any pictures to show you yet. I’m hoping to get to that today or tomorrow.

In the meantime, a finished sweater means that I am out of knitting. I started some swatching with the yarn that I bought at Rhinebeck, but there are lots of stitches and many design sketches to go before I am ready to really cast on with that. I needed something to get me through a couple of all-day faculty meetings, and the return-to-school commute.

Teresa from my local knitting group kept telling me that the basketweave stitch pattern would make a great scarf, and I had to agree. It’s a nearly-reversible pattern and has a lot of depth and texture. It would be a simple enough pattern to write. And so the idea simmered.

I started looking for yarns, put up the last post with the full list of criteria I was looking for, and spent more than one afternoon poking around on Ravelry hunting for just the right thing.

On Tuesday, Teresa introduced me to Hub Mills, a local yarn shop hidden away in the middle of an industrial park. They had a very nice selection of yarns, and we spent quite a while browsing over their selection and weighing the pros and cons. In the end, I went with the first skein I picked up when we walked through the door; a very soft merino from Swans Island Yarn.

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This is from their Natural Colors collection, in the colorway Tarragon. The ball band says that it’s supposed to knit up at 4.5 stitches to the inch on size 8 needles, but I needed 6.5 stitches to the inch on size 2’s to get the right firmness of fabric to go with this stitch pattern. Which just goes to show that you really never can tell from the ball band.

Fortunately, Teresa talked me into buying one more skein than I thought I’d need for the project, just in case. I was hoping to get by with 1000 yards, but bought 1250 instead. I was surprised at how quickly the yarn was running out, so I paused the knitting for a couple of days and blocked the first skein’s worth of scarf on the needles. The photo above shows one skein of knitting; the scarf is just over 11″ long, and then of course I lost a bit of yarn (maybe another inch and a half?) to the swatch. I could probably have made it in 1000 yards if I’d used one fewer pattern repeat, but I wanted something nice and wide so I’m glad for the extra skein. As it stands, the width is about 19 inches. At this rate, it will take all 5 skeins to end up with a scarf that’s just around 5 feet long, which should be about perfect.

 

 

I am on the hunt for the perfect yarn. This is one of those moments where I wish that Rhinebeck was tomorrow, because I’m looking for something in particular and I’ll know it when I see it, but I prefer to shop by touch rather than by mouse.

So. I’m looking for a worsted weight wool-based yarn, but wouldn’t mind a little bit of luxury fiber thrown in if the price is right. I’m happy to pay for the right yarn, but it shouldn’t be too crazy expensive, since I’m going to need a lot. (750 yards? 1000? not sure yet, but quiviut and bison need not apply!) About 6 stitches to the inch, I’m thinking, with medium twist and good stitch definition (no fuzz) and nice drape. If it can manage all that and not be too dense/heavy, it would be perfect (a similar weight/grist yarn in the stash is 600 yards per 8.8 oz). Top priorities are warm and next-to-skin soft, with minimal pilling. Probably a solid or semisolid colorway, bonus points if it comes in gray.

I know it’s asking for a lot from a yarn, but I am sure it exists somewhere out there. Anybody know where I might find such a fiber?

Welcome to 2015! I hope the new year is starting off well for all of you. Ours has been quiet so far, which is generally how we like it.

I usually come up with some kind of knitting goals list to kick off the new year. My brain has been circling around to it for days, but so far…nothing. Last year, my noble and ambitious goal was simply to “knit more.” I think I did manage to accomplish that (at least compared to the previous year), but I can’t say that I have any new and exciting themes for 2015.

I have a feeling that my knitting will continue its trend toward smaller needles and finer fabrics. That’s not really a goal, just a consequence of my liking for finer fabrics. There’s a vague tickle in the back of my brain that says it might be time for some more colorwork…that could be fun. I’d like to continue working my way down through the stash, in a low pressure, non-exclusive kind of way. A steady diet of stash yarns would be good, though.

None of those “goals” feels particularly exciting or well-defined, but sometimes it’s time to simply carry on, so that’s what I plan to do. I have a feeling that the first half of this year will be a lot of quietly carrying on, followed by some bigger changes that are a little too far off to see clearly yet.

And in the meantime, I will knit. (Something.)

How about you? Anything exciting on your knitting horizons?

Wow, December’s been a slow month for blog posts. (Actually, looking back, it’s been a slow year. Or two…)

I guess that’s partly because it’s been a slow year (or two) for knitting. Since the last post, I believe that I have managed to produce (dum dum dum)…three handwarmers! On big needles!

At least all four of them now have thumbs, and have been wet blocked, though there are ends yet to be woven. I have always found that handwarmers look absolutely terrible in pictures when they are not posed on human hands, and while I did ask Branden to put them on briefly while wet to make sure they stretched to roughly the right size for blocking, I wasn’t about to push my luck asking him to pose for photos, too. (It’s a patient man who tries on sopping wet wool…ick!) Photos will have to wait for another blog post.

Fortunately, knitting has no deadlines, and knitting with deadlines can usually be scuttled, which is exactly what I did to the holiday knitting game when I came down with a cold on Monday. Because really? Virus-laden knitwear isn’t really what anyone wants for Christmas anyway.

Our holiday celebration was delayed until yesterday in any case (work schedules, etc, etc), so I was back in the saddle in time to host, and it seems that everyone had a delightful time. Much food was consumed, gifts were enjoyed, and general holiday cheer was had by all.

Look at these itty bitty needles from a husband who takes hints (that would be a 1.2mm, 1 mm, and 0.7 mm needle size):

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They also came with their very own 3D-printed knitzi (from his homemade 3D printer, which he built from last year’s Christmas gift from a wife who takes hints. What can I say? Reciprocal enabling at its best.)

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So here I am, back on my feet again, holidays managed, and with a week free from work (except for a day or two of unexpected consulting that popped up the week before last). Who knows? I might actually knit on a sweater!

Hope you all had a great holiday, and that you’re finding your way back to the needles after the rush of the season!

Sometimes stalling out on one project is a great way to finish up a bunch of other things. While the sweater has been in limbo, there have been lots of other projects springing unexpectedly off the needles.

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I started this scarf months ago, and it’s been my bag knitting all semester. I was puttering along on it, and it was looking like it would take forever and a day to finish. Turns out that all it needed was a couple of days of undivided attention.

I knit the scarf expecting it to be for me, but when I laid it out to block it told me that it wanted to belong to someone else. So, it will probably be packaged up and mailed off tomorrow for a holiday surprise.

When the scarf was finished, I needed something else to work on, so I asked Branden what he might want. He is always happy to get another pair of handwarmers, so we picked some nice grays and greens and browns from the stash and one of these sprung off the needles too. (Yes, it still needs a thumb.)

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The second has been a bit slower to spring, but it’s coming.

I finished a quick project on the small loom; a stashbusting waffle weave scarf (also for Branden).

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And, since that one’s done, I wound another warp for the loom. I’m also planning this one for me, but I have a feeling that it may go to an aunt. I think I probably have enough warp on there for two, though, so we may end up being twins.

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And last weekend, I went over to my friend Heidi’s house and spent the whole day crafting. (We thought we were going to spend a couple of hours, and it turned into more like 12.) She had purchased some felt bags, and I brought my dye scraps, and we needle felted the day away. Here’s my (completely unplanned) bag. Not bad, considering that the final design has absolutely nothing to do with where I thought I’d end up when I started out. Sometimes you have to go where serendipity takes you.

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I’m only barely started on the first sweater sleeve, but taking a break has made me feel like I’m getting lots done! (Now let’s see if I can manage to finish the last minute Christmas knitting and spinning that I’m tossing on the pile, in the rush of madness that follows a bunch of quick finishes!)

I was pretty sure at the end of the last post that the Basketweave sweater was going to be ripped out. I’d rather reknit and get it right than live with a garment I don’t love, and I half expected to start ripping as soon as I finished writing the post.

And yet.

Something, somewhere in my brain said to wait and think about it. So I did.

I asked Branden to try the sweater on again. And again. And again. (He is a very patient man.)

Each time, I tugged and pulled and stood back with tilted head and folded arms to take a good look. Each time, I came back with no clear solution, and no clear idea what I was looking for. But something said to keep looking.

I left the sweater out on a chair in my office. I picked it up and looked at it disconsolately a few times a day, then shrugged and put it back. As I refolded it for probably the 100th time, a little tug at the back of my brain said that it looked shorter than it had just after blocking. Well, that was odd.

I laid the sweater out to measure it again, and it had indeed changed. The length was 33″ and the width was 25.5″ just after blocking, and now the length was 31″ and the width was 24 inches. Shorter and narrower. Hmm.

I’m constantly making my research students crazy asking “is it repeatable?” Bad data is worse than no data, and it’s important to be sure that your measurements are really correct. (Especially if your first measurements were strange.) So, I went back and measured again.

The sweater was a bit shifty in its answers; changing by more than an inch in either direction from one measurement to the next, depending on how I happened to lay it down. I took 4 different sets of measurements, and it did seem to have settled in at about 30.5″ and 23.5.”

Ok, then. But is it repeatable?

I blocked again, this time stretching the sweater wide and then scrunching it down again. Laid out as the wet fabric wanted to (before any interference from me), it was 36″ long and 20″ across. With some scrunching up, I got it back to 33″ and 25.5, intentionally leaving it a little wider for a more relaxed fit.

After drying, I picked it up and shook it, stretched it around a few different ways, had Branden try it on again, and then subjected it to random investigations over the next few days. It’s now measuring 31″ and just under 25″.

So, what exactly is going on?

Well, I think it’s something like this. The basketweave stitch is basically a ribbed pattern, and ribs are very elastic. But they’re not elastic when wet. The wet fabric flops and stretches any old way, behaving more like the loose stockinette that makes up the ribs, but when the fabric is dry and worn, the elasticity comes back into play, sucking it back down to its preferred size.  (Ever tried to squeeze just another inch out of some ribbing by blocking aggressively, only to have it spring back to its original size when you wear it? I have.)

The floppiness in the wet fabric probably is an indication that I knit the sweater at a gauge that’s slightly too loose. If this were stockinette, I’d be sunk, and there’d be no question about ripping back. If the yarn were slippery or didn’t have a lot of bounce, it would also be finished. But the combination of the bounce in the yarn and the structure of the stitch pattern seems to have balanced out the loose gauge and the extra weight. (Of course, the wet the fabric is even heavier and the yarn has no bounce to it, so it just grows all out of proportion.)

Even in its “bounced back” state, the sweater is still about 6 inches too long, so I’ll have to pull back a couple of repeats and reknit the ribbing, but that’s a small adjustment compared to reknitting the whole sweater body. It should also decrease the weight considerably, and it answers any concerns about yardage, since the fabric used in the body is about the same amount needed to finish the second sleeve and I’m quite sure that I have enough left in the skein to finish the first sleeve.

And so, surprisingly enough, it seems that this story has a happy ending after all. I wasn’t expecting this plot reversal at the end of last week’s post, but I’m happy to accept the “miracle” ending. I’m glad I held off on the frogging long enough for the recalcitrant sweater to communicate all that it had to say!

I don’t find that I have occasion to complain about the honesty of swatches here very often. I tend to knit at a fairly firm gauge, and I knit large swatches (often 6×12″ or more), so I usually have a pretty good idea of what kind of fabric I’m going to get.

Usually.

Sadly, the swatch for Branden’s Basketweave sweater is turning out to be one of the unreliable variety.

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Does that swatch look shifty to you?

 

Now, to be fair, I knew as soon as I touched the washed swatch that the knitting was much looser than I usually use for a garment. I like a firm fabric that doesn’t stretch with wear, and I almost always go down a needle size or two from the gauge that most people would use. (Almost without exception, a knitter picking up one of the sweaters I’ve knit will comment on how dense the fabric is.) I’ve been bitten by loose gauge before, and unless the garment really calls for it, I prefer to knit something that I know will stand up to wear and tear without stretching.

For instance, here’s a sweater that I knit for Branden in 2008:

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And here’s the same sweater after 6 years of use:

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I don’t think it took more than a few months for the sweater to stretch; certainly not more than a few washings. You can see how the fabric at the shoulders has deformed, which makes the drop shoulder far more pronounced (an extra 3-4 inches per sleeve?). Sleeves that were once just a little long now hang an inch or two past his fingertips – and let me tell you, it is hard to make a sleeve that is too long for those arms! Branden still loves this sweater and wears it happily, but I cringe every time I look at it.

Knowing all of this, I decided to stay with the looser gauge on the basketweave sweater, first because I didn’t want the rib/welted fabric to be too stiff, and second because I wasn’t confident that I would have enough yarn to finish in a tighter gauge. (I’m also already a needle size below the low end of the recommended gauge, which says I should get 5-5.5 stitches to the inch on size 4-5 needles. I’m getting 6 sts/in on a size 3, in pattern.) I measured and weighed the swatch, and it suggested that I would be pretty close on yardage, so I went with a bigger needle.

I finished the body of the sweater this week, and started on a sleeve. I had carefully measured my swatch to get a sense of how the fabric would end up, and my stitch and row counts seemed right, but the sweater just took forever to knit. I chalked it up to impatience, and kept on knitting. I finished with a 17.5 inch underseam from the armpit to the hemline, and 28 inches from shoulder to hem. So far, so good.

Then I started knitting on a sleeve, and I started thinking that it would be good to get a really accurate row gauge for the blocked fabric. So, I decided to block the body on the needles. I put it in the sink to soak, and wandered off to do other things. When I came back to squeeze out the fabric, I was surprised at how much give it had. Then I laid it out on the floor to dry.

Allowing the fabric to stretch to its natural size, the sweater was 33 inches from shoulder to hem, and 56″ around the chest (gauge said that it should be just shy of 50″ around). That’s an increase of 20% in length and 12% in width, for those who are counting. The shoulder area appears to be better-stabilized by the raglan shaping and the cables than the body, which is just knit in the round, but there was significant stretching in both areas. A garment designed to fall right below the belt line suddenly turned into a tunic that would hit in the upper thigh.

I scrunched the fabric up a bit to reduce the stretching, and let it dry. It feels bouncy enough, and keeps its shape fairly well now that it’s dry, but even slightly damp it deformed with no trouble at all. Here’s the body post-blocking. Remember, this is the less-stretched version!

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(Don’t raglan bodies look funny without their sleeves?)

The sweater now measures about 31 inches from armpit to hemline; 3 or so inches longer than expected, but not nearly as bad as before. It’s about 48 inches around, so it’s even a little bit on the snug side of the original gauge measurement in width (this makes sense, since stretching longer usually makes fabric pull in and become narrower).

I can easily pull back a few repeats and reknit the ribbing, which will also help with yardage, since the extra length probably uses almost as much yarn as a sleeve, but that leaves the question of whether the fabric will maintain its integrity in the long run.

On the plus side, the basketweave pattern will tend to pull in if possible. That should help to fight stretching out over time. As I said, the yarn is quite bouncy and elastic once dry, and that will probably help to reduce stretching (unlike the Cascade Eco wool used in the other sweater, which doesn’t have much bounce on its own). I could add some crochet seams on the inside of the body to help stabilize the fabric, though they can only do so much.

Or, I could reknit the sweater on a smaller needle and get a better fabric. (That would also give me a chance to redo the color mixing, which isn’t as uniform as I would like.)

I think the sheer weight of the yarn is the reason for my swatch failure. It’s not a terribly dense yarn, but it is heavier than many  on the market. It’s looking like I’ll need to use a full 2.2 lbs in this sweater, which is quite a lot of weight, even for a sweater of this size. The swatch was only about a foot long, so it didn’t have all of the weight of the rest of the garment pulling down on it. It simply wouldn’t have stretched as much. The looser gauge makes it possible for the yarn to shift quite a lot with blocking, and the two factors combined make for some very stretchy fabric.

Of course, that same weight is going to work against me in the wearing of the garment, too; it will tend to put extra strain on the structural elements of the sweater, and will tend to stretch it out of shape over time. The question is whether the elasticity of the yarn and stitch pattern will be enough to counteract the weight and the loose gauge and make a relatively stable fabric. The short answer is that I don’t know.

I’m currently inclined to pull it all back and knit it again on a smaller needle. A few more weeks of knitting time now will be better than several years of watching Branden wear a sweater I don’t like. (And the barrier to ripping back a finished garment is high enough that I’m unlikely to change it once the decision is made, so a wear-now, reknit-later plan won’t work here.)

I’m still concerned about the yardage, and a denser fabric will make for an even heavier sweater than the one I have now. I’m considering ordering a couple more skeins of the yarn: it won’t be the same color lot, but having a couple of extra skeins would help me match the colors better, and it would solve the yardage problem. I’m not sure I want that many leftovers, though, and a 2.5 lb sweater might feel more like chain mail than a comfortable garment!

I’ve spent the past 2 days ignoring the sweater and letting my brain mull over the options while I waited for the body to dry. I don’t want to wait forever to make a decision, so I’m going to have to pick something soon. I’d rather do it right now and end up with a garment that I like, but I’d also rather not reknit the whole thing. (I thought about felting, but that’s a one-shot deal, and there’s no recovery if it fails.)

At least one thing is sure: in the future, I’ll have to remember to be more thorough about interrogating any swatch that looks even a little bit loose and shifty!

 

Has it really been 2 weeks since I posted? I’ve been knitting away on Branden’s Basketweave sweater, lost in that endless middle section where there is no apparent progress to explain where the hours go. It has been slowly growing, though – helped along by a rather extended bout of inexplicable insomnia – and all of a sudden it’s starting to look like a sweater.

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I’m not 100% happy with how the color is pooling. I ordered all 4 skeins at the same time because the yarn is batch dyed to order and I wanted to make sure that I ended up with only one colorway, but one of the skeins is significantly lighter than the other 3. I hoped it wouldn’t show, but with the sweater laid out it’s clear that there’s a difference. I’ve been working 2 balls together to try and even out the lighter skein, but the color is still not looking even across the whole garment. We’ll see how much it bothers me in the finished product. If it’s jarring enough, I may go back and overdye to reduce the contrast. I’d rather not have to, since that will probably also eliminate the subtle shade variegation in the yarn, but we’ll see how it looks. Good to have overdyeing in my back pocket, at least.

Deep in the middle of the sweater slog band, there was a day where I just couldn’t knit on a never-changing object anymore. And so, I cast on for a sweater that I knew I could finish in a day.

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(Sorry for the terrible lighting, on both photos…it was a beautiful day and I was home for all of it, and yet it didn’t occur to me to take photos until well after dark, so poor lighting is what we get.)

It always surprises me how long small knitting projects do take, but this was fun nonetheless, and it used up a tiny little ball of leftover sock yarn that I had kicking around in the stash. I cast on 5 stitches for the front and back, and 2 for each arm section, and whipped up a simple little raglan in a matter of a few hours (I think I put 8 stitches on holder needles for the arms, and then picked up another 2 or 3).

I’m not usually into fiddly little projects, but this one was just right. It took the edge off of my need for progress, inserted a little color into a lot of black knitting, and the finished sweater is very cute indeed. I think I may have been subconsciously influenced to try some miniature knitting by the Yarn Harlot’s recent adventures with an advent calendar. There is no way I’m going down that crazy path, but it did seem like it would be fun to have a tiny little sweater to hang on the Christmas tree (which we put up today…is it really December already??).

It was fun to have a tiny project, just for a day. Here’s a photo to give you a sense of scale:

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Off to knit a few more repeats on the body. Only about 6 more inches to go!

 

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