Sunday, October 28, 2007

Bunad Mukluks

I wish I could say that the steroids are enhancing my knitting performance, but that would be lying. Somewhere along the line I picked up a cold last week, and for an asthmatic, that is not a good thing. I ended up in the ER Friday morning, was glad to hear the X-rays showed no pneumonia, but apparently all that rattling and buzzing when I breathed was due to really, really annoyed asthma. And so now, in addition to the inhaled steroids and other meds that are part of my normal daily asthma control routine, I am on oral steroids, nasal steroids, antibiotics and high doses of anti-histamines. My public service announcement for today? Please, if you get a cold or flu this season - and I sincerely hope you don't - think about people out there with compromised immune systems due to chemo or other illness, and stay home. For some people out there, the common cold can be a dangerous thing.

Yesterday morning about this time I sat down to work on some socks I am making for one of my sisters for a Christmas present. This is a wonderful cabled pattern from Interweave Knits called Williams Street Socks. It is a simple 10 st cable worked every sixth row, so in the first cable round you hold 5 sts to the front, work the next 5, and then work the held five, etc. to the end of the row, knit 5 rounds. In the next cable round your 5 sts are held to the back. So I have been working the pattern starting with the cable round, working the 5 stockinette rounds, and then putting my knitting down to do other things, knowing that when I come back I will need to start by working the next cable round. I've been doing this all week, without any problems. Until yesterday morning.

For some reason, when I picked up my knitting, I could not at first read the knitting to know which way to go with the cable - zig or zag. This is not normally a problem for me, but between illness, lack of sleep from coughing all night, and major drugs, I had NO CLUE which way to cable. Finally I thought, What the heck, dive in, and if it's not right, all I have to do is frog it. So I started with the sts held to the front. Finished the round, looked at the knitting, and realized that the sts should have gone to the back. Ok. Frogged back to the beginning of the round, held the sts to the back, and worked the round again. And realized that I had held the wrong 5 sts to the back. Frogged back again, and did the round right.

I mention this not so that I can humiliate myself in public, after all, it wasn't a problem until now. But to show that we can all do those really, really silly things sometimes, and the worst that happens is that you have to frog back and fix it. Knowing my cognitive limitations for the moment, I worked out a plan where I can keep track of which cable crossing I just worked on my st counter. Now I've finished the foot and am ready to tackle the heel.

I am a big fan of Interweave Knits magazine and publications, it is a rare thing that they come out with a new book that I don't HAVE to possess for my own. They have a fresher outlook on knitting that I really like. Recently they brought out a new book in their Style series called Folk Style. Wow! Great designs, great color! There are several patterns in here I am looking forward to making for myself, such as the Grand Tour Waistcoat and the Algonquin Socks. The Modern Quilt Wrap is started with stash yarn, but on hold until I finish my holiday projects. I know one of my sisters would love the Paisley Shawl.

And then there is my eternally cold aunt. Last year I made her the crocheted felted boots from the Fiber Trends pattern, and I hear that she has worn them right through. This year I decided to get serious, and made her the Bunad Mukluks from Folk Style. This is a really quick and easy project that uses just over two skeins (so buy three!) of Lamb's Pride worsted. This is a yarn that I really enjoyed working with, and will use for lots more projects. I picked a bright red as that is her favorite color, and elected to leave out the tassels in the back. As you can see, they are just a giant pair of socks...

that you felt...

and sew slipper bottoms onto...

Couldn't be easier! And now they are ready to go out in the mail in plenty of time for her birthday. I'll definitely be making more of these, especially for myself.

So in the meantime, keep knitting! Look at resources such as books and magazines for inspiration, and enjoy our craft.


Saturday, October 20, 2007

The Afterthought Pocket

The principle glory of the afterthought pocket is that it is, well, an afterthought. You don't have to plan it ahead of time, you can work it after your sweater is completed, you can even put them in several years later. You think to yourself, Gee, I want pockets in this sweater. So whip out 3 dpns, scissors, matching yarn and a yarn needle and do your thing.

The Afterthought Pocket, blocking

To begin working an afterthought pocket, you simply decide where you want your pocket to go. Try the garment on, stand in front of a mirror, and attempt to put your hands into pockets. Where your hands first meet the garment, there should the pockets be. Take off the sweater and mark where you want the pockets to go, and measure out approximately 4-5" worth of sts (about 1-1.5" wider than the width of your hand).

Now, with one of your dpns, pick up the sts in the row above the row you have marked for the pocket opening. In my case, this was 20 sts. Next, with the second dpn, pick up an equal number of sts in the row below where you want your pocket opening to be. You should have a needle holding sts, a row of knitting not held on the needles that lies between the two dpns, and then a second needle holding an equal number of sts.

Pick up your scissors - and taking a deep breath - snip a stitch in that in-between row, right in the middle of the intended pocket opening. With the point of your yarn needle, pick the yarn in the snipped row out of the sts that are held on the needles above and below the opening. It is important that on both ends of your opening you do not take the loose yarn completely out of the last top and bottom held sts, but rather leave the yarn passing through one st once, then once down (or up, as the case may be) through the corresponding stitch at the same end, on the other needle. This helps to prevent a gap at each side of the pocket where the knitting on either side isn't joined to the pocket area. It should look something like this-

Now, using your spare dpn and the sts on the bottom needle, use the Knitted Cast-On method to cast on 3 sts at the right side of the pocket. Work an I-cord BO by *K2, K2tog tbl, slip all three sts back to the left needle*. Repeat until you have bound off all the sts on the bottom needle, you should have 3 sts left on the right needle - put these on a coiless pin to hold for later, and break off the yarn leaving a 6-8" tail to be woven in.

Working the I-Cord BO

Next, work the sts held on the top needle for several rows (about 1-1.5 in.) in the same pattern as your sweater. Switch to stockinette st, and if desired, you can gradually increase a total of about 1" worth of sts at the sides as you knit. At the same time, I knit in the tails from either side of the pocket that are left from the un-picked row that formed the pocket opening. Knit your pocket to the depth desired, and leave the sts on the needle. Break off the yarn leaving a 6-8" tail to be woven in later.

Now, turn your garment inside out, and carefully pin the pocket to the inside of the garment. With matching yarn and yarn needle, sew the pocket into place beginning at the right upper corner, down across the pocket bottom, and then up the left side of the pocket. To sew down the pocket bottom, pass your yarn needle through a purl bump on the sweater fabric, then through a held st on the dpn. As you sew the pocket sides, be careful to leave a bit of slack in the pocket fabric so that from the front side the pocket doesn't pull on the sweater fabric, and remains invisible.

Finally, use your yarn needle to graft the 3 I-cord sts left at the edge of the pocket trim to the garment, and then weave in all ends. When you block the sweater, be sure to run a blocking wire through the center of the I-cord trim to prevent the pocket trim from sagging.

Voila! You have pockets!

Monday, October 8, 2007

Buttonholes, and the Adult Surprise Jacket

On October 29th, I will begin teaching a class on the Adult Surprise Jacket. Anyone familiar with the mind of Elizabeth Zimmermann will recognize the name and convoluted design of this wonderful jacket. EZ (as she is affectionately known on the knitting lists) designed the Baby Surprise Jacket first, and then had so many requests for an adult version that she eventually translated the pattern so that each adult knitter could formulate a pattern that fit them. EZ was famous for wanting knitters to think for themselves, and I would venture that her written patterns are a perfect demonstration of that concept, with the ASJ being no exception. You are given no yarn weight, no yarn amount, and no needle size, but rather are instructed to work a swatch to your liking, measure for gauge, then measure your favorite-fitting jacket and calculate your pattern from there.

I have long admired the look of both the BSJ and the ASJ, and had always wanted to make one of my own (in that long list of things I want to make) and a class gives me the perfect excuse to do so. So first I stepped over to my trusty yarn cabinet and surveyed the contents. I have everything sorted out according to weight, then if there are specific projects that a pile of yarn is earmarked for, those are all bagged together and labeled. Anything else is fair game. Because I intended to this be a jacket rather than an 'indoor' sweater, I wanted to use at least a worsted weight, perhaps heavier if I could. This past January I made a Philosopher's Wool cardi and I had lots of left-over yarns from that project. Sitting right next to them was a yarn from Noro called Transitions. Lynn gave me a skein of this two years ago for Christmas, and it is just so beautiful. I never knew quite what I wanted to use it for, being too lovely to felt, so I bought a few more skeins, and they have been biding their time in the yarn cabinet. And best luck of all, this yarn is in colors that work perfectly with my PW yarns. Finally I needed another yarn to hold it all together, and chose a chocolate brown Eco Wool by Cascade that Lynn has in the shop. After swatching on a Sunday, I was all prepared to start this project two weeks ago today.

Today I am ready to place my buttonholes. I think the majority of knitters are with me when I say that I really, really dislike finishing. And yet, I confess here and now in case you have ever wondered, if I have ever been to your house, yes, I did straighten out the pictures hanging on the walls when you were out of the room. Bad finishing makes me crazy, and there is a certain discount yarn company that also makes me nuts when they send out their quarterly catalogue filled with photos of un-blocked sweaters. So I have come to realize that it isn't the finishing I dislike so much, it is all the fussiness involved in making things right. Consequently I plan out all my finishing before I even begin the project. By the time I have completed a sweater, I typically have one end to weave in from my bind-off, and that is all. Any edges that will not receive some manner of edge treatment afterwards all match, and Lynda is a happy gal.

For me, one of the fussy bits is placing the buttonholes and sewing on the buttons afterwards to match. In a pattern like this one that just tells you vaguely to work 7 buttonholes evenly spaced, I have to whip out my little 'math thinking cap' (which is very little indeed) and figure out where to put the darned things.

I start by placing the top and bottom buttonholes first, and marking those sts with coiless safety pins. I like my top button to be about 1 - 1/2 inches below the neck edge, depending on the weight of the yarn used and the size of the buttons. The bottom button is usually placed about 1.5 - 2 inches (or more, really, depending on how it looks) above the bottom of the button band and marked with a pin. Next I count the number of sts between the two pins, subtract one st for each of the remaining buttons, and divide that number by the number of buttons left to place, plus one. So in this case, it calls for 7 buttonholes total, I have already placed two, and have 5 buttonholes left. There are six spaces (5+1) between seven buttons. So if I have 59 sts between my top and bottom buttons, I subtract five sts = number of remaining buttons, and get a result of 54 sts. Divide 54 by 6, and you get nine sts between each of the buttons. Go back to your sweater, count 9 sts down from the top coiless pin, place another pin in the next st. Repeat til you have all your button holes marked.

Now - and this is the genius part - mark the corresponding sts on the other side, and leave those pins in place until you are ready to sew on your buttons. Now you know exactly where the buttons need to go in order to line up perfectly with the buttonholes. When you are finished, block your sweater first and then sew on the buttons where they are marked by the pins.

Ok, now time to go finish those button bands!