Tuesday, September 30, 2008

going green!!!

while looking for something to knit for my cousin's impending nuptials, i came across a pattern for reusable knit swiffer cloths!!

instantly.... i LOVED it!! not only do i get tired of throwing away the disposable swiffer pads, but i think it's hilarious- harking back to those knit toilet paper cozy days..... but in a very updated way! it's almost a pop culture pattern- not that the state of our planet's health hasn't been a concern until recently- but with this being an election year, all the candidates are trying to convince voters that they actually care about the earth! hell, even the maury povich show advertised during a commercial break that their offices and studios are "going green"..... MAURY POVICH??? the man who sells onesies that say "YOU ARE NOT THE FATHER" on his website! now that's pop culture! *and yes, i DO watch maury povich! i'm a stay at home mom, give me a break!! it's a guilty pleasure that i just can't tame.... it's too damn hilarious!!*

anyway, the pattern is funny, cute and actually usefull- i'll be knitting one immediately!! even if only to say that i actually did it! AND- among all of this excitement- i was able to come up with an idea of something to knit for my cousin's wedding. after searching ravelry for some nice wedding "things" i was still coming up empty handed *they had plenty of pretty girly things, but i really wanted to make them something they could BOTH enjoy. my first instinct was to knit or crochet an afghan or throw, but i wanted to give them something really special, and i'm not sure i could get it done by december with all the other things i have going on*.

so, i called my mother for suggestions. we talked, and debated, and i threw out an idea from left field: a name doily. you may have seen them before, almost every married couple in our family has one... except for my generation. she told me that many members of our family had commissioned them from a local woman years ago. translation: no one in my family could tell me how to make one!! since this is not the kind of work i usually do, i had no idea where to look for instructions, patterns, alphabets or anything, but we ended the conversation on the idea that i would look around on the internet.

after a few failed searches, i learned that the technique used to crochet said doilies is "filet crochet", and after searching for FILET CROCHET name doily alphabets, i started getting some results! almost immediately i was finding free charted alphabets, but i don't think any modern "patterns" exist anymore, as all the patterns from back in the day were from those little phamplets you find in the yarn section of wal-mart *or similar chain/craft store selling yarn*. but if you can read a chart, you can interpret any charted alphabet for filet crochet. i also came across a message board where a woman said that she followed the instructions and chart from Stitch 'N Bitch: The Happy Hooker to learn how to filet crochet. i almost couldn't believe it- that was the book that i taught myself to crochet with! and lo and behold, the instructions were on my book shelf the entire time! and i will say, her explanation of filet crochet was easier to understand than any i found online!

so, i have found an alphabet that i love and since i can't find a suggested weight of crochet cotton to use, i guess i'm going to try out what i have and i'll go from there! i have some left over from the wedding garter i made, but i doubt the end of that ball will be enough. i think i will crochet one full letter with what i have and see if i like the size, weight and look of it. and luckily *if i don't like it* crochet cotton is super cheap! now if i can only get print-outs of the letters i need, i could start on it right away! unfortunately, however, our printer doesn't work! i'll have to call in a favor.....

Monday, September 15, 2008


if you put it out into the universe it will come to you? well, that's the saying that comes to mind after finally being able to buy the yarn i wanted for the gigi pattern from knitty!!! i had been fawning over Gigi *a kimono cardi* since the summer issue of knitty hit the web, but i knew we didn't have the money to buy the yarn.... especially when i researched the yarn used in the pattern. it's a handpainted merino/tencel blend called radiance from yarnbotanika priced at $23 a skein..... and i would need 4 skeins for my size!!!! it's a really nice yarn, just not in my price range at all!!

after doing some research for "budget or discount" yarn companies, i found elann. like knitpicks, they carry lines of yarns that are produced exclusively for them, which enables them to offer such great prices. their website has a really usefull tool that allows you to search their yarns by fiber content, season, weight, etc. so in less than five minutes i had a list of yarns to choose from that were suitable for my project - without having to sift through everything. i was having a hard time deciding between the price of their cotton yarn or the luxury of the *slightly more expensive* bamboo yarn, but after checking the color card, i fell in love with the "oriental teal" color. and at less than fifty cents extra, the bamboo is worth it. plus, i've been dieing for some bamboo knit wear!

and so, swatching has begun. the yarn is a bit fiddly, but not unmanageable. it has a major problem with splitting- if you're not looking when you insert your needle into the stitch, you'll totally split it. and splitting the yarn makes the new stitch not want to be removed from the needle, so i'll be yanking at it, trying to get it off the needle, which distorts the surrounding stitches. it can turn into a mess if you don't watch it. a wool yarn would definately beat bamboo in the ease-of-use department. but no matter how many times you hear about bamboo yarn reacting differently than other fibers, learning how to deal with those effects is best done by experiencing it *and figuring it out* for yourself. oh, yeah.... did i mention this is my absolute first time knitting with bamboo yarn AND this will be my first knitted garment? since the yarn i bought is different than the one used in the pattern, i'll have to be pretty thorough in my swatching.

swatching and blocking technical support: where i explain a little bit about swatching for THIS yarn and how i block swatches

i absolutely believe in swatching in large projects- in smaller projects where gauge doesn't really matter, or the article can be knit in ANY gauge, i don't bother. but for something that you want to look nice, and have around for twenty years, i want to know how the resulting fabric is going to look, behave and especially wear over time.

the first step, of course, is the knitting. i usually start with the needle suggested on the ball band for the yarn i'm using, and then if i'm not getting the right gauge, i will switch needles accordingly. i think that knitting a swatch that is big enough to measure four inches of fabric is one of the most important steps of swatching. however, some people like to "speed up the process" by kniting a two inch swatch and multiplying that gauge by two, but i think that opens the door for more inconsistency. i want to be as precise as possible. if you're going to take the time to do it, you might as well do it right. i cast on as many stitches as i think i'll need for four inches of measurable fabric plus however many stitches i'll use as a border *i add 8 stitches- 4 on each side*. borders of non-curling stitch patterns help your swatch to lay flat while you're measuring it *which helps greatly when you're wrestling with a ruler and a swatch and counting... amd we all know how hard counting knit stitches can be!!!*

for a long time there was one thing that still had me confused about swatching- the blocking phase. to sufficiently know how your fabric and resulting garment are going to react when you wash them, there is *in my opinion* only one way to block: by simulated washing. what i mean by "simulated" is that i follow every step of the washing process, except i don't add soap. i read the washing instructions on the yarn's ball band and follow them to a T.

for example, my bamboo yarn says to hand wash in cold water and air dry flat. so for this yarn, i knit my swatch and soaked it in cold water *sans soap*- the amount of time i leave a swatch to soak varies by the fiber content of the yarn. the fabric needs to be completely wet throughout, with no dry spots left. some fibers may take a while to "wet". once my swatch was done soaking, i GENTLY take it out of the water and press the excess water out or roll it in a hand towel or rag *again, GENTLY* to get as much of the water out as possible so that the drying goes by faster. i then lay it out on a DRY hand towel and prepare to shape it. this is another step that i had been doing wrong since i began my *self taught* knitting career. most books instruct you to "pin to desired dimmensions or to pattern specifications". so if you're not following a pattern or the pattern you are following doesn't go into great detail about what the measurements of the individual pieces should be, then what?!?! so i usually just quessed about how to pin out my swatches- stretching, pulling and forcing them into shape..... and ultimately distorting them.

once i joined ravelry, i started a discussion about blocking handspun, in an effort to clear up some of my confusion. the advice and tips i got were varied and numerous. so, like most things in knitting, everyone has their own *very steadfast* opinion about how to do things the "right way" and you take everything you've ever heard, and try to make sense of it.

i personally like the technique that involves NO pulling or stretching of the fabric. instead, i lay my swatch out and try to make it as flat and neat as possible. i would describe it as more of a *finessing* of the fabric- i smooth out any lumps and bumps and try to make any wavy, distorted edges of my swatch even *which, admittedly, does involve the TINIEST amount of "pulling"- but done gently!!* and sometimes, if my vertical rows are wonky *which was quite a problem with the bamboo yarn* i may go UNDER the fabric to straighten it out.

in my opinion, blocking your swatch this way gives you the truest gauge. instead of pulling and pinning the swatch- making it bigger than you knitted it- you are merely flattening any bumps and wrinkles out that may have happened with all the handling that is involved in blocking soaking wet knitted fabric. from there, all that is left is to wait for your swatch to dry and measure your gauge!!

my last tip for swatching is to take notes on each swatch- any important yarn information, needle size, gauge, tension and basically any information that may be important to you in the future!! i keep a notebook that is reserved for keeping notes on my on-going knitting projects. it's much easier to have all of my notes in one place!

things i learned about this yarn from the swatching process:

having now done at least seven swatches with this yarn *because i still can't get pattern gauge!!* i now feel overly familiar with this yarn. here are a *few* of the things i learned about this yarn through the swatching process: the yarn looses twist when knit with a few times, bamboo "wets" faster than i imagined it would, if knit at a tight enough gauge the swatch still has fantastic drape without too much sag, the stitch definition of the yarn when wet is terrible and the stitches become sort of smooshed *which had me scared the first time i blocked it* but once dry everything returns to normal, the rows become very wonky once wet *where i learned to go underneath the fabric to fix that problem*, and that after all these washes, the yarn actually holds up pretty well *to my relief*!!

i think one of the worst knitting-related disaster scenarios is knitting the most beautiful garment you've ever seen, only to find out that later that the yarn shrinks, sags, bleeds, etc. terribly on the first wash! it really is amazing how much you can learn about your yarn before you even start knitting your garment, and for that alone, don't you think swatching is worth it???

what to do with all those swatches??? (yet another area where everyone has their own preference)

many people *especially serious knit-wear designers* like to keep EVERY swatch they've ever knit for future reference- and if you're a really serious knitter or use a specific yarn often, this would be really useful to you. personally, i'm a tight-budgeted knitter. although i do think it's important to buy more than enough yarn for a project, i'm not a knitter who buys an entire extra ball for swatching *no, i'm not making that up*. in fact, i'm so frugal that when i bind off my swatches, i DO NOT cut the yarn. instead, i leave the last stitch of my bind off row on the left needle and instead of tieing off the yarn as i usually would, i insert the right hand needle into the stitch, hold the swatch tightly just below the stitch and i pull up on the right needle- creating a big loop. then i take the yarn that is still attatched to the ball, slip it into the loop, and pull the loop tight- making a sort of slip knot. once the swatch has served it's purpose, i can pull out the loop, rip out the swatch and wind it back around the ball- freeing up the yarn so that i can knit with it instantly. in my opinion that saves alot of yarn *and money* and the trouble of having to store hundreds of swatches.

as soon as i can get the right gauge on this yarn i will be more than ready to get this project on the needles!! i've been as close as one stitch and 4 rows off!!! if i can't work this out soon, i think i'm going to have to rewrite the entire pattern for this yarn. and as horrible as that sounds, i've scanned though the pattern, and i don't think it will too extremely hard to rewrite it..... i hope.....

more detailed information on other swatching and blocking techniques:

great knitty article on swatching:

details about blocking *also includes blocking different fibers*:

Thursday, September 11, 2008

edit notice!

just a little note to let anyone interested know that i just added pictures to my post about the TAGRA first year fiber festival. there are pictures of the goat judging, the teeny, tiniest little skein of handspun known to man, and the stuff i purchased from kai ranch mohair.

Sunday, September 7, 2008


ah, freedom! it's been so refreshing to be able to do whatever i want without having to worry about a timeline. the creativity 350 project had me so unraveled in every way possible!! of course it's funny now, and i'm not too proud to laugh at myself. but i really didn't realize how much pressure i was putting on myself to finish that project until it was all over.

of course a stay at home mom doesn't deal with deadlines every day, and it surely sounds pitiful to those who actually work to listen to me complain about one project, with one deadline, for such a short amount of time. but the truth is, i'm not afraid of deadlines. it was just such an ambitious project for me to take on at the last minute, and i knew that. i knew it would be stressful and that i would be pressed for time. i literally worked up until the last possible moment that i could!! if i didn't have the kids to look after, it would've been much more peaceful. at least at a 9-5 job you are garaunteed a certain amount of hours and days to work on a major job....hell, you even get overtime if you need it!! there's not overtime in my day job.....
it was a lot of fun, but thank god it's over! now i just have to motivate myself to start cleaning the house again!!

so what have i been working on?!?! well, i've been taking advantage of the fact that i'm not tied down to any certain project at the moment! my wheel has been taken out of hibernation and the first thing i wanted to do was finish up some singles that i had been thinking about plying together. remember the navajo plied bamboo yarn that i UN-plied to get back into single form? at first, i had no idea what i would ply it with, but after seeing and fantasizing about all the bamboo/cotton handspun yarns on craftster, i knew what i wanted to do. i would ply the bamboo with the white cotton single i spun from the indian punis.

although i knew what i wanted the fibers to do, i was worried that they wouldn't cooperate with each other. since cotton is so much shorter than bamboo, i thought the cotton single may pull apart and disintegrate. but, true to form; i live uncomfortably with the idea for a couple of weeks, until one day i just tell myself, "shut up and do it, already!!!"

to my disbelief, the two polar opposite fibers plied together beautifully! i haven't set the twist yet, but as far as i can tell, the strength of the cotton single was compromised. and the bamboo's longer staple length will help with that too. i really like the way the white looks with the colors in the hand dyed bamboo. it makes the colors more springy than they already were. the bamboo plied with itself made the colors really dark and it sort of looked easter/cheesy! now it looks easter/chic!

some may remember my depressing rant about having nothing to knit after finishing the creativity 350 socks. the only excuse i can give for forgetting about the yarn over cable socks is that sometimes i feel like i have no brain at all! i can't believe i forgot about a project that i was so excited to start knitting! but, they're back in action now, and i still love the stitch pattern as much i did when i first began the socks! but, i have altered them a little bit again..... *surprise, surprise*! when i first picked them back up, i decided to solve a problem that i was ignoring with the handspun i was using for them. the yarn at the beginning of the skein *the part that i knitted the swatch with* kept getting thinner and thinner as i knit more of the foot of the sock. if it would've done that past the the heel i wouldn't have been so worried, but since it was thinning on the foot and up to the heel *the parts of the sock that take the most abuse* it had to be resolved.
so i frogged back down to the thicker yarn and went looking for the other two skeins i had to see if i could match the thickness. i cut the yarn and added on the new skein, but after knitting over half of the foot *again* i realized how warm the socks would be and how little i would be able to wear them in texas. so now i'm going to look through my internet bookmarks and find the knitty pattern for pedicure socks. you knit the leg of the socks, the heel, and most of the foot and then bind off before knitting the toes. you can see how that would be beneficial for getting a pedicure, but i plan to wear them for a different occasion. i like to wear flip flops year round....i know it sounds weird. if you lived in texas, however, you may understand. i use my feet to regulate the temperature in my body. if i'm hot while sleeping, i throw the covers off my feet to cool off. if i'm cold, i must cover my feet. not to mention, the weather in texas can go from cold to hot to everything in between in a matter of hours. so, a sweater with flip flops makes total sense to me!!

and, last but not least, i'm working on processing two fleeces right now. the most urgent is the targhee fleece i bought for the danish tie shawl in spin-off. the bulk of the wool is still only washed, nothing more. i did start the carding process a while back, but was extremely dissapointed and DIS-motivated (and i know that's not a word, but it describes my feeling perfectly!!!) when i took the first batt off the carder and the presence of VM (oh.....and the left over sari silk that refused to come off the drum carder from the last carding project....oops!!) in it was outrageous..... way to much for spinning quality. after that i was stumped... i had no idea what to do. so, i took a break from it. the obvious problem was that i wasn't removing enough of the VM before the wool hit the carder. after stewing for a while, i got the idea of combing the wool before carding it. i know it sounds mental to comb somthing and then card it (!!!), but combing wool to the point of getting out all the neps and such is so tedious, and as i learned very quickly takes a lot of time. but what if i combed it until it was clean and then carded it? it sounded good in theory, but i had to prove it in practice. although it still took a while to comb the wool clean *it was still a little bit dirty* it was much better than having a batt of such a beautiful, fine fleece packed full of hay, grass and burs. so i've continued doing it that way. i haven't pulled the second batt off the carder yet, but i hope and pray that when i do, i will be rewarded with a pristine batt. i can't wait to start spinning that wool!!! it's doubtful that i'll get the shawl done by autumn at this point, but fall comes late and is extremely mild in texas *and a texas winter is similarly deppressing*. maybe i stand half a chance.....

the second fleece is the babydoll southdown i purchased from sapphirechild on etsy. i'm trying a new washing technique which i plan on giving full details about in a later post. all i can say right now is stay tuned.....it's super-dirty!!!