05 December 2011

On the Stash

[Note: I just found this post, which I wrote some time in November, and reflects the nonchalance of maternity leave, when one actually has time to do things like go through one's stash.]

I have far too big a yarn stash. It's not as big as those of some knitters who have entire rooms full of yarn and fiber, but it's big enough that I have enough yarn for many more sweaters and socks than I can reasonably be expected to knit in the next decade. Or, let's admit it, two decades.

So I'm trying not to buy yarn. However, I got into my head that I wanted to make Baby R an Anemone Hat. This hat calls for Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted, a superwash wool I've long been coveting.

I will not, I said to myself, buy yarn. I surely have some form of superwash worsted-weight wool that I can use. And I went into the basement to see what I could come up with.

What I found:
- A box of acrylic baby yarn my mother gave me years ago.
- Some wonderful variegated alpaca I've been planning for the last 5 years to combine with black alpaca for a patterned sweater.
- Cones of mystery yarn my mother once bought for her now-defunct knitting machine, which I just can't bear to throw away because think of the shawls I could make out of them.
- A box of Peaches and Creme cotton I bought this summer when I caught the Peaches and Creme fever on hearing it was being discontinued. I thought I would weave dozens of dishcloths. Haven't even finished the first one, and the cotton is too thick to weave comfortably on my loom. I had vague plans for a bath mat, which I should perhaps take steps to realize.
- Silk my mother gave me that I'm planning to use for Emerald Seas. (A lot of my stash seems to come from my mother, who clearly passed on the stash gene.)
- Several sweater lots of alpaca and Lopi Light and a really wonderful gray wool, many of them purchased at various Smiley's Yarn Sales. I still plan to make those sweaters, too - that would be the Icelandic sweater, the Inishmore, the Fjalar Sweater, and the list goes on.
- Leftovers from a range of baby blankets, socks, and other projects from over the years.
- Assorted individual skeins I bought on impulse to test - like the Blue Sky Alpacas Organic Cotton I bought with the idea of making a sweater for my husband. It was a little too pricey for a simple cotton sweater, but I recently found another use for that cotton: IMG_2591
(NB: there are two hats because the hat I made when I followed the pattern was large enough to fit my 6-year-old niece. Rather than rip it out, I simply made another, smaller, baby-sized one.)

But no worsted weight superwash -- until, among those assorted skeins, I spotted a center-pull ball. I pulled the ball band out of the middle of the ball and found that, yes, it was a single skein of Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted superwash wool, exactly what the pattern called for.

I like to think that on some level I remembered it was down there. But I wouldn't swear I did.

[NB: In the three or so months since I wrote this post, I have not yet managed to knit the Anemone Hat.]

15 July 2011

Loom-ing problems

Here's a post I seem to have written in July, but never got around to posting.

Last Christmas, I finally lowered my defenses and allowed my husband to get me a loom.

It seemed inevitable, not least because my husband, who has become enamored of all my fiber-related gadgets, has been eager to get me one for a couple of years. And I thought it would be a good idea, seeing as how I'm drowning in fiber and weaving, as we all know, uses up yarn much more quickly than knitting does.

It does, that is, if you actually do it.

Weaving has made me realize anew why knitting is a craft that appeals to me. You can be spontaneous in knitting. You can fudge knitting. And if you mess up, you can rip it out and start again.

Weaving, on the other hand, requires organization. It requires advance planning, working out all your measurements: how wide? how long? how many strands of yarn in the warp? It requires warping. Can we talk warping? It took me two days and I had yarn stretched out over the whole length of the living room. Then I missed one strand. Then I wasn't sure I loved the colors. No recourse, when you're weaving, unless you want to abandon the whole project.

Beginner weaving project

Weaving reminds me of sewing. I was never a good sewer. It requires a kind of detail and fussiness that I've never naturally been good at. With knitting, I can work to master the details and feel a sense of accomplishment. With sewing, I feel there are people who are just naturally better at this kind of thing than I am.

I also confess to a prejudice against the woven product. I mean, how many scarves, table runners, placemats and dish towels does a person need? This is patently foolish since I feel not at all limited when turning out socks and shawls and hats ad nauseam as a knitter, but psychologically the possibility of the occasional sweater offers a vent and a way to avoid the threat of repetition.

Beginner weaving project, in situ

When I originally wrote this, I was still working on a weaving project that I started in January and finished in July. I have to grudgingly admit that I kind of liked it when I was finished -- enough that we actually use it (despite its raggedy beginner edges). And I was really proud of my fringe.

Beginner weaving project

I promptly warped the loom with thick cotton to make dish towels.

My first dishtowel

I got about two inches away from finishing my first dish towel -- and put the loom aside for another 3 months.

I sort of admit that I may weave some things that I like, particularly when I start using thinner yarn - the thick wool and cotton I used in my first two projects make weaving rather slow going.

But I'm not sure it's about to replace spinning and knitting in my craft pantheon - and I'm not sure how much time I'll have to pursue it.

Though I have conceived a project to weave cushion covers for our IKEA dining room chairs, using some twine-tough heathery tweed yarn in two contrasting colors, that definitely has potential.

27 January 2011

Postal blues

I have a friend who is a brilliant silk artist.

She started out painting silk scarves as a hobby. Now, she does glorious hand-painted mandalas. I can't copy the pictures from her website, but I promise you it's well worth going and browsing for a while. (The site is in German text, but my friend speaks English like a native; I'm not sure why she's never gone bilingual with it.)

Over the years, as she has honed her talents, she has given me at least half a dozen stunning scarves. I blogged one of them here. But I also have elephants, seals, floral patterns, abstractions: a cornucopia of beautiful silkiness.

One day last summer, I looked at some fiber in the spinning pile, and realized that it wanted to be a shawl or scarf for my friend. (Never make a gift for someone unless the fiber tells you that's what it wants to be.)

Spunky club "Flowering Weeds"

The fiber came out in her colors. I got about 325 yards of chain-ply from three ounces of merino-mohair blend (Spunky Eclectic, once again, colorway "Flowering Weeds").
This being me, I started spinning in early June, thinking I might get it done for her birthday at the end of the month.

I finished knitting the shawl in October.

Flowering Ishbel

Before blocking. Note how little of the yarn is left over: it came out just exactly right.

Flowering Ishbel

During blocking.

Flowering Ishbel

After blocking.

The pattern is Ishbel, by Ysolda Teague. And I wish I had taken some better photos of it. But I blocked it, and then waited another month or so to weave in the two ends (would hate to rush anything), and then I just wanted to get it in the mail.

I sent it in mid-December, thinking that she might possibly have it in time for Christmas. Though I am usually pretty scattered about Christmas and gifts (I am great at thinking of nice things I would like to send people, and not very good about carrying through on my plans), I did manage to get a few things in the mail this year. Even a couple of Christmas cards, though only a couple.

Of course everything takes ages to arrive internationally, especially over the holidays. Still, thanks began to trickle in from people. But earlier this week, I realized I'd never heard from my friend. And after some thought - you hate to push someone to acknowledge a gift they might not have liked! - I wrote her on Facebook to ask if she had gotten a package from me.

Wouldn't you know: it never arrived.

She, being an optimist, assured me that she sent a friend in Florida a package at the start of December, and he only just got it this week. So we hope it went surface mail, and might show up in a week or two.

But wouldn't it just figure that when I finally get around to acting on a nice instinct and making something for someone who has made me so many nice things over the years, it vanishes without a trace...

UPDATE, Jan 31: All it took was a little griping for the postal gods to take note! It arrived today, about seven weeks after I mailed it, with the airmail sticker still on it. And the recipient was very happy.

10 January 2011

Ripped (out)

I have spent months letting potential blog posts drift across my mind like those zips at the bottom of cable news channels, adding a layer of ephemeral complexity to an already overcrowded prospect.

I am finally, though, moved to commit words to screen out of sheer frustration. After years of functioning as a reasonably competent knitter, I seem to be losing my ability to complete the simplest of tasks.

It began with these socks. Slippery Socks, from Knitty.com.

Slippery Sock

These were conceived as a house present for a friend who brought me to her country house last fall. (LAST fall. That would be 2009.) While I was there she admired, extravagantly, the hand-knit socks I was wearing. So what better house present could there be than a pair of socks, made in autumn-leaf colors to commemorate our weekend of "leaf-peeping?"

Now, I have been known to knock off a pair of socks in a matter of weeks. See my last post. I can even knit socks faster than I can photograph them, as evidenced by this image of a half-knitted, toeless sock that was actually completed six months ago and has been in regular rotation since.

Plane Socks

And these "leaf-peeping" socks were moving along swimmingly. Only, I realized, as I made my way up the leg of the first (toe-up) sock, that they might be a little big. I tried them on and realized that they were a little big ON ME, and would therefore be able to do double duty as a sleeping bag for my petite friend.

I responded as I usually do. I put the unfinished sock in the corner for a number of months, as punishment.

Some time THIS fall (we're talking 2010 now), I finally ripped it back to the toe and started a whole new sock in a whole new pattern: Leyburn socks, which I'd been wanting to make for a long time. (I liked the way the Slippery looked, but I found the pattern a little fiddly.)

"Peep" sock in progress

Well and good. Yet somehow, I ended up having to rip out these socks several times.
The first sock was too big, again. Ripped back, reknit. Then I started the second sock. Messed up the heel. Ripped back, reknit. Realized I had left out some pattern increases. Ripped back, reknit. Realized I had left those increases out of the first sock, too. Ripped back, reknit.

I got into a veritably manic state about these socks. I wondered if they would ever be finished, or if I would be condemned to continue knitting them for the next ten years.

"Peep" socks (Leyburn socks)

Finally, they're done. I think one of them is still too big. And the floats look awfully loose. They might benefit from a spin in the washing machine. But I have entered the "it's-the-thought-that-counts" stage. This represents a terrible loss of knitter's pride. Obviously I have reached a new low. But I did a great job on the packaging.

"Peep" socks, packaged

So, those socks are all ready to send off. And this weekend I was faced with the prospect of wrapping up other unfinished objects, and catching up on spinning. Logically enough, I woke up on Saturday morning suddenly inflamed - perhaps "consumed" is a better word - with the realization that I had, in my stash, the perfect yarn with which to make a sweater I've had my eye on: Debbie Bliss's Divided Front Tunic. Somehow it takes several weeks for ideas to percolate in the brain until the notion of "yarn-being-saved-for-sweater" and "sweater-I-want-to-knit" bump up against each other and prompt the chemical reaction that leads to immediate, willful casting on -- without even swatching. (Cue ominous music.)

I knit all Saturday morning. Then I calculated the yardage and realized that if I knit the pattern in the size I'd chosen, I wouldn't have enough yarn to finish.

So I ripped out my work from Saturday, and cast on again, one size smaller. Still without thinking to MEASURE what I'd ripped out.

By the end of Sunday, I had about 10 inches of the back. At which point I actually looked at it and thought it seemed generously proportioned, even for a loose-fitting garment. When I measured, I discovered that I was so far from getting gauge that my sweater was not a size M, but a size XXXL.

I will not let myself be defeated. I want to wear this sweater while the weather is still cold. So I am pledged, today, to rip it out again and hope that the third time is the charm.
But I long for the days when I simply sat down and knit, and made things that fit.