Archive for June 2011

Not the building but the beam

June 30, 2011

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Pattern: Sunny Spread by Ellen Gormley
Yarn: Elmore-Pisgah Peaches & Creme Double Worsted (100% cotton), colorway Gold
Hook: U.S. K/6.5mm Etimo Tulip

I completed this in March, but it has only just now reached its destination — the home of Lily Tobias, new daughter to my dear friend Scott and his wife Ali. So many things to love about this blanket! Let me name a few.

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It’s modular. This is my first blanket worked in squares that were then stitched together. I got to where I could crochet a square in an hour, not counting the time it took to rip out the border when I realized I forgot to work in the back loop only while transitioning from the circle to the square shape.

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It’s bright. Part of the attraction of this very popular blanket pattern, without a doubt, is its cheery yellow color. You can’t beat yellow, if you ask me, for babies. (Or green — but that’s another post.) Blue and pink are predictable, binary, and overdone. Pastels too. Primary colors really say “kid,” and it’s not long in a baby’s life before baby stuff is done and the transition to childhood has begun. A blanket like this can last and remain stylish and appropriate for years.

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It’s covering a beautiful girl. And long may it keep her warm, comforted, and protected.

The question to everyone’s answer

June 26, 2011

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Pattern: 128-11 Top with pattern on round yoke in “Muskat” by DROPS Design
Yarn: Louet Euroflax Sport (100% linen), colorway Melon Mix
Needles: U.S. 4 Harmony wood Options interchangeable 60″ circulars (magic-loop style) & U.S. 3 nickel fixed Options 47″ circulars

While reading Elizabeth Wayland Barber’s book Women’s Work: The First 20,000 Years — Women, Cloth, and Society in Early Times, I became fascinated with linen. Barber reveals how difficult it actually is to extract fiber from flax and make it usable, and how we can tell that tomb paintings in Egypt depict linen thread being spun by noting the little wetting dish the fiber passes through on its way to the wheel.

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Knitting with linen yarn is an equally fascinating and complex process, for which I received plenty of advice via my Ravelry research. The yarn is coarse on the fingers, so I soaked and air-dried the skeins before winding them into balls. Because of the twist that must be imparted to the yarn when spun, and the inelasticity of the fiber, stockinette stitch tends to bias, or lean; a square ends up as a parallelogram. I made a swatch to test a “half twined” technique that some said counteracts this tendency — wrapping every other row backwards so that the next row of knitting twisted the stitches to the right — and the results were good, so I forged ahead.

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Given this experiment, and a fiber whose properties I had not yet experienced, I was nervous about the outcome of this top. No one on Ravelry had knit it in linen, although there were a few cotton versions (as the pattern specifies). Could I keep a consistent gauge? Would it grow uncontrollably upon washing, drying, or wearing? Would it even fit, and would I like the style? I perserved for months, making slow progress toward the lace section at the yoke when I could finally cease the labor-intensive effort of half-twined stockinette. When I got there, I raced toward the finish, but with trepidation in my heart. How would it emerge — as a garment with all the cooling, refreshing, and flattering properties I could dream, or as an unwearable poster child for failed theory?

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I tried it on after binding off the neckline. To my relief and delight, it fit perfectly. But that wasn’t the end of the story. Linen is stiff and rough until washed; with the application of water, the abrasion of washing, and the heat of drying, it becomes soft yet crisp, a cloth that pampers the skin, catches the light, and drapes like silk. But washing and drying not only change the nature of the fabric but also its gauge. Wet, the plant fibers swell, stitches move and slide, length increases, width shrinks — or maybe vice-versa. I wasn’t brave enough to toss it in the wash, at least the first time; I hand-washed, rinsed, then packed it in a lingerie bag and put it in a drier on my usual medium setting.

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It was late at night when I took it out an hour later. But I couldn’t wait. I tried it on and — magic. Softer, lighter, clingier, but with the same perfect fit. When I started this tee, everything about it was a gamble. I didn’t know how it would look on my torso, how the yarn would act, how all my alterations would turn out. What happened was way beyond my expectations. It’s not just a warm-weather top that taught me about linen. It’s an alchemical transformation of plant into yarn into cloth into a human-friendly shape, and I’m frankly stunned that my hands had anything to do with it.

All the swells join in the search for sun and sand

June 25, 2011

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Pattern: Mao by Angela Tong
Yarn: Knit Picks Simply Cotton Worsted (100% organic cotton), colorways Mandarin Heather and Limeade Heather
Needles: U.S. 5 Zephyr acrylic Options 24″ circulars (magic loop style)

So many of my dearest friends are having babies, or have just had babies, or have children that are just coming into their most charming childhood ages. It all makes me crave toys. Buying them, dreaming about them, remembering them. And of course, making them.

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The entire latest issue of Petite Purls was devoted to toys. It set me into a frenzy. It fed my obsession. I had to make something from it right away. Only days after the patterns appeared online, I had rescued these almost-full skeins from the scrap basket. Not only did I get to make a cute toy, I got to continue indulging my fingers with cashmere-soft Simply Cotton. Win-win.

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Because I had babies in mind for this squeezable little nuggets of cat, and because I don’t happen to have safety eyes around the house, I used black scrap yarn to make eyes (per this tutorial by Anna of Mochimochiland, who is now officially a friend of a friend, making me vicariously very cool). I experimented with different ways of making an upside-down triangle nose and upside-down v mouth, although I should have just looked up the instructions for Tammy the Cat from the Gurumi family — I did a great nose on her.

But as I was finished my second Mao, making the flat knit circle for the bottom so kitty will sit up straight, my mind started working overtime. It’s a lot easier to make flat crochet circles than knit ones. What would a crochet version of Mao be like?

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It took two days and a lot of experimentation, but there she is. I started at the bottom with the circle (original knit Mao is top-down) and then kept working on how to get the increases to happen fast enough. Didn’t quite get it, so crochet Mao (C-Mao for short) has a more elegant, tapered figure than her knit cousins. I kinda liked it, so I stopped with this version.

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Her ears are flat rather than stuffed, and her tail — well, that’s where the elegance ends. Business in the front, party in the back.

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If the designer and the publisher are okay with it, I’ll post the pattern notes for C-Mao. For now, I’m just pretty impressed with my first foray into figuring out something like this. And with my menagerie of cats. Who, if Cady Gray has anything to say about it, may never make it to any of the babies that sparked this toy modness in the first place.

How you dream about each other sometimes

June 5, 2011

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Pattern: Gumdrop by Jennifer J. Cirka
Yarn: Knit Picks Simply Cotton Worsted (100% organic cotton), colorways Limeade Heather, Bermuda Heather, Mandarin Heather, Marshmallow
Hook: Etimo Tulip U.S. J/6.0mm

The sun beats down in Arkansas in the summertime. And this year, summer has arrived early. Already we’re flirting with triple digits and high humidity. Everybody needs a hat to keep the sun off their brow.

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I started this one as soon as the yarn arrived; I ordered the yarn almost as soon as I saw the pattern; I saw the pattern moments after it was published in the inspiring new webzine Tangled. Serendipitously, Knit Picks was having its annual yarn sale, and I snagged all four of these colors for 25% off. I had worked with Simply Cotton before in the Montevilla Market Bag and several subsequent dishcloths, but I had no memory of its incredible silky feel. The yarn slid like butter through my hands.

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I nearly finished the hat in a single evening; completed the brim and fashioned the bobblelicious flower the next morning. A lot of ends to weave in, but aren’t those brilliant stripes worth it? In choosing colors, I tried to get cool colors, one neutral and one hot accent; you could do the same thing in reverse by having one cool color among a group of warms. The neutral takes on the value of the dominant set of colors, and the single counter-example really pops. Don’t remember where I read that, but it’s great advice.

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My gauge was off on the small side, my children’s heads are apparently freakishly big (21 for CG, 21.5 for AA), and so I made the extra large size. Fits her perfectly and would fit me in a pinch. Another thing I read somewhere: Kids’ heads are almost the same size as adult ones, at least past toddlerhood. No need to get too anxious about fit. Make it to fit you, and it will work for them.

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Sun, do your worst. We’re not just protected — we’re in perfect style.