Wednesday, August 27, 2008

Finish Before You Begin

I'm doing something that I never, ever do. You all know by now that I've been working like a dutiful knitter on Christmas presents since June. And I'm going along pretty well, I'm proud of how far ahead of the game I am and how much I've gotten finished so far, with months yet to go before the holidays.

Until I got to my eldest sister's socks. She is a browns and rusts and oranges person, and so these socks are knitted from stash yarn in a pattern called Oak Leaf. This is a fairly easy, textured stitch pattern combining cables and lace, and it is looking gorgeous in her colors. I know she'll love these socks. But it is not in the least intuitive. Typically, lace and cable patterns become instinctive after a repeat or two. You just know in each row where the cables or the K2tog, SSKs and yo's go next. Until this one. So, in a nod to my hormones and in a bid for sanity, after finishing the first sock I have put the project into 'time out', and cast on something for myself.

The February Lady sweater. This cardigan pattern, available free through Ravelry, is based on a baby sweater pattern by Elizabeth Zimmerman. Pamela Wynne up-sized it for women, and this particular cardigan is the hottest thing since sliced bread right now. And I just happened to have enough worsted weight Cascade 220 Heather in my stash from a going-out-of-business sale a couple of years ago. I don't think the photos show the color off properly, but it is a heathered mixture of pine green and navy blue, with an odd red haze over it that is truly gorgeous.

When one even begins a sweater there are a few things to think about, and decisions to make. It is important that you consider all the various stages and their options so that you can plan the finished result before casting on the first stitch.

First, Cast-on and Bind-off. Are they going to show? In this case - a top-down raglan - the answer is yes. The cast-on is the neckline, and the bind-off is the bottom hem and the sleeve edges. This sweater begins and ends with garter stitch, so I opted to use a Latvian Cast-on (not to be confused with the Latvian Braid Cast-on), as I like the way it imitates garter stitch. I'll end with the Latvian Bind-off and have the same effect at hem and sleeve edges.

Next, I need to think about my opening edges of the cardigan. Are they going to show just as they are knitted, or will a button-band be added later? In this case, the selvedge edges will be used as is, and the button band is knitted as you go. I opted to slip my edge stitches in my favorite way - K1tbl in the first stitch in every row, work to the last stitch, yarn forward as if to purl, slip the last stitch as if to purl.

Now, there are raglan increase lines - how do I want to treat them? I have several options: I can work them according to the pattern by working them as - M1,K1,M1. This leaves a less defined and more subtle raglan line. I could work them with eyelets - yo,K1,yo. Or I can make them with a defined line by following the M1,K1,M1, but purling that center stitch on the wrong side rows. This makes the raglan lines stand out against the garter stitch background - as in mitred corners. I went with the last choice.

With a top-down raglan, after you knit the yoke of the sweater with the raglan increases, you separate the sleeves stitches from the rest of the body stitches, and put the sleeve stitches onto waste yarn. Next, you will typically cast on a small number of stitches at the underarm area that become part of the lower body stitches. Later, after the body is finished and it is time to pick the sleeve stitches up from the waste yarn and begin to knit the sleeves, you will pick up stitches at the top of those cast-on stitches at the underarm. These become part of the sleeve stitches. Because the body and the sleeves below the division point in this cardigan are knitted in a lace pattern, there isn't a secure edge to pick up sleeve stitches from later. Considering this, I cast on the underarm stitches using a Crochet Cast-on with waste yarn, then slipped these waste yarn stitches back to the right needle and knitted across them with my working yarn. Later, when it is time to work the sleeves, I can pick out the waste yarn and have live stitches to work from.

Because I have thought through the various stages of the project before beginning, I am better prepared for what happens next, have more control over the finished product, and am happier with the more finished results. Planning ahead also give you time to practice any new techniques on a swatch before incorporating them into your project.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Speaking of Knitting Bags

Well, no matter that I try my best to be an independent woman, sometimes it takes my husband to simply walk past and ask, Did you try to upload those photos one at a time? And so it seems that Blogger, at the moment, can't take big bites of photography, only little nibbles.

Sticking with my promise to show you some of the wonderful new project bags that Lynn has in the shop, I want to show you what I have been lusting after. I don't know about you, but I have always had this mental image of a knitting bag that I'm sure is a left-over from my parents knitting back in the 60s. And I'm not into vintage. I've long been convinced that in everything there should be beauty as well as function, and these bags have both qualities, in spades.

First, Kiwi has several really cute little tool bags for knitters and crocheters, just the sort of thing you need to tuck all your much-needed tools in (I'm going to go get one of those quilter's needle-grabbers, Marianne!). And they make it very easy to transfer a project from one bag to another.

Want a project bag that doesn't scream 'old lady' every time you use it? Or are you a guy knitter or crocheter who wants to be able to carry a project along? Then the Messenger Bag from Namaste is for you. The Messenger Bag has a durable corduroy exterior and lots of pockets. It measures 16"w x 12"h x 5"d at the top, 6" at the bottom. A special zipper allows you to expand the depth of the bag to a roomy 8.5".

Namaste is known for their animal-friendly materials, but even a leather bag fan such as myself would never spot these for anything but the real thing. That is the kind of compromise I really like. The Malibu Bag is spacious with an interior divider and lots of pockets. What I admire about this bag is its camouflage. No one would look at this and say knitting bag! It looks like a top line purse and you could easily use it for one when it isn't carrying around your latest project. The Malibu measures 20"w x 13"h x 8"d.

The Laguna is a bag with a slightly larger feel. It measures 17.5"w x 16"h x 7.5"d. It is chock-full of pockets, both inner and outer, with a zippered interior divider, and handles as well as a detachable shoulder strap. Also made with that buttery soft animal-friendly 'leather'.

Also in the shop but not pictured is Namaste's Knit Tube. Think of that tubular sling that you use to carry your yoga mat to class. Make it out of Namaste's durable 'leather' and divide it into two compartments for easy use. The Knit Tube measures 26"l x 6"d.

If you are planning any travel and want a small, light project bag to take on the plane, then the Airplane bag is for you. It opens into a roomy interior so that you can root around and find just what you need.

And then closes into a little silk reticule for easy carrying.

Isn't it time you treated yourself to a new project bag? Stop in and see all of our bags from Della Q and Lantern Moon as well!

Saturday, August 16, 2008

Southwest Fiber Festival

Well, I had planned today to follow up last week's post by showing you some of the wonderful new knitting bags that we have in at Kiwi. However, Blogger doesn't want to play nice with my photos this week. So until I can figure out what its problem is, or until it should miraculously recover from its snit of its own accord, I thought we could talk about an upcoming event.

Mark your calendars for Saturday, October 25th. The Southwest Fiber Arts Guild will present the Southwest Fiber Festival from 10-5 at the Amado Territory Ranch, about 30 minutes south of Tucson off of I-19 and Arrivaca Rd., exit #48.

The event will appeal to knitters, crocheters, spinners and weavers of all skill levels. Classes will be presented on subjects ranging from making yarn from fabrics, wet-felting classes on flowers and treasure brooches, broadening your spinning techniques and lace-yarn spinning, wire crochet and Kumihimo, hand-painting yarns or warp, hand-painting rovings, needle-felt landscapes and basket weaving.

There will be a skein competition judged in categories such as Fine Singles, Medium to Thick Singles, Fine Plied, Medium Plied, Novelty & Novice Spinner.

Animal exhibits, a fleece competition, shearing demonstrations, door prizes and more should entertain the whole family.

A variety of vendors from the Southern Arizona are as well as from as far away as Colorado and New Mexico will be on hand selling fibers, yarns, buttons, beads, spinning supplies, felting supplies, finished items and more. A great time to start your holiday shopping! Lynn and Kiwi Knitting Co. will be one of the vendors on hand with a variety of fibers for spinners, and I will be selling my felted and embellished items, with my friend and Kiwi customer Monica who will be selling her hand-dyed pre-felts for nuno felters.

This promises to be a very fun day in a gorgeous setting. October in Southern Arizona is a lovely time of year for an outdoor festival centered on our favorite obsessions. So plan to come down and visit the Kiwi booth as well as take advantage of the wonderful classes. I hope to see you there, and please stop by my table as well and introduce yourself!

Saturday, August 9, 2008

What a Knitter Needs

Congratulations go out to Ellen Fischler, who won our Kiwi Blog Anniversary Contest! Ellen won a gorgeous Della Q knitting bag, a $30 gift certificate for a project to fill the bag with, and a one-hour private lesson with yours truly.

I love, love, love bags of all sorts, and knitting bags especially. For me, one of the best things about buying a new bag is the process of moving in to it. You know, deciding which things will go where for maximum convenience, and just how much you can carry around with you on a daily basis.

As well as the ever-beautiful Della Q bags, we have some of the gorgeous Namaste knitting bags in the shop now, which I lust after strongly. As soon as I have one in my possession, the following is what I would be putting into it. Call it my list of things that every knitter needs, at one time or another.

1- A bag should be big enough to have a suitable spot to stick a copy of your pattern so that you don't have to fold it to get it into the bag. It should be within easy reach when you need it, and easy to put away when you don't.

2- A small tool case that will fit all the small odds and ends that we need so often. We have some very cute ones in the shop right now, or if you like to show off your talents, mine is one of my Knitter's Felted Tool Cases, (pattern also available at Kiwi Knitting) and it fits everything I need, including:
-A small compartmented box with small stitch markers perfect for separating repeats in patterns, coilless pins for marking particular rows, and fancy beaded markers for when I want to be wild.
-Another small compartmented box holding Chibi bent-tip needles for weaving in ends and sewing knitted pieces together, yarn darning needles for yarn embroidery, cable needles, a needle threader, needle holders and point protectors.
-A small glass dropper bottle with water for wet-splicing yarns.
-A packet of knitting marking pins to use when sewing up sweater parts.
-One of several measuring tapes which I have stashed all through my bag and around the house.
-A small calculator for figuring yardage for yarn requirements, and calculating increases and decreases.
-A 6" calibrated metal ruler for measuring gauge.

3- A set of crochet hooks from sizes 1.25, 1.5 and 1.75 mm for beading, through size B up to K. Excellent for rescuing lost stitches, repairing stitches gone wrong, and working great crocheted trims on knitted pieces or crocheted chains for those times when you just can't face I-cord.

4- A yarn cutting disc for quick cuts.
5- A small, very sharp pair of scissors for detail work.
6- An electronic row counter to help me to keep track of where I am in a pattern.
7- An interchangeable needle set for emergencies.
8- The package for the needles I'm currently working with, along with any needles I might need later in the project.
9- A sticky note pad for making notes to myself about any changes I might want to make in the pattern, as well as a small spiral notebook for writing down ideas or reminders for myself, or info to share with other knitters.
10- A package of Thimble-Its for those times when I have been working too long with small needles and have punched a sore hole in the pad of my right index finger, but can't stop knitting anyway.
11- A pen for marking changes in a pattern, and a highlighter to highlight the sizes and stitch counts I'm using in a multi-size pattern.
12- Personal things like waterless hand cleaner for cold and flu season, a spare asthma inhaler, mints and eyeglass cleaner.
13- A ball of waste yarn, and a ball of white worsted yarn for quickly demonstrating techniques or trying something out before applying it to my project.
14- A pair of elastic hand mitts for wrist support because I knit too darned much - according to non-believers, and according to my wrists.
15- My MP3 player with earphones loaded with audio books that I've downloaded from the library website.

Now some of these things I need only once in a while, but they are very convenient to have on hand - because when you need them, you really, really need them. Others I use every day, both in my own knitting and when teaching other knitters.

I'd love to hear what all of you carry around in your knitting bags! Send a comment and give us some new ideas by clicking below on the word 'COMMENTS' that you see following this post.

Also, do you have a question about knitting or crochet, or want me to write about something that you want to know more about? Leave a message in the comments, or email me at Lynda at Kiwiknitting dot com


Friday, August 1, 2008

The Doctor is In!

No matter what else I may have planned or scheduled for the rest of my week, every Friday morning from 10 til 12 I get to go play Knit Doctor at Kiwi Knitting Co. In the morning I pack up my knitting bag - which invariably spends all of Thursday afternoon and evening vomiting it's contents all over the house. My set of crochet hooks on top of the knitting machine in the yarn room (referred to, by non-believers, as the dining room). Which is where they were last evening when I was watching a movie in the next room and picking up stitches on the gusset sides of the second sock, wanting to do that tricky pick-up st in either corner that prevents holes. The yarn darning needles by the chair in the yarn room where I was working a contrasting blanket stitch border on a felted scarf yesterday morning. My socks-in-progress (SIPs) from the coffee table. Stuff it all in, put the bag on the table by the front door where even someone senile from birth such as myself is much less likely to walk out the front door without it. Grab my bottle of water and go.

Playing Knit Doctor is one of my favorite ways of teaching, for a reason that would make many knitting teachers dread it, shuddering in fear. I never know what's going to come through the door. I have no idea what I'll be asked to solve. I can't prep for it! I love that. For someone who was never able to envision a traditional career for myself because I hate doing static, repetitive jobs, this is the ideal. I drive down the alley and park in the back, put the sun shade up in the front window of the car, and open the back door to my surprise for the day.

Opening that door is akin to having the privilege of unwrapping an incredible gift at the same time every week. Who's going to be there today, and what will they have?

This morning there was one woman who wanted to learn how to do an applied I-cord edge with buttonholes, and brought in her garter stitch swatch with contrasting yarn and needles all ready to go. She also brought a friend of hers for the first time, a newish knitter who had knitted a hat flat and needed to learn how to do mattress stitch. I got to see an array spread out over the table in the back room of things the second woman had knitted in the last week, proudly displayed and presented by her excited friend, with commentary. I was able to show one woman how to start a Twisted German cast-on without a slip knot, and how to space her stitches on the needle as she cast them on. For a fourth woman, I had the fun of talking about purl decreases and what makes a decrease lean the way you want it to lean. Yet another woman who is knitting a beautiful ribbon yarn jacket wanted to learn how to do an M1 increase. And I could talk about slipped stitch edges and their beauty and value on shawl edges with a fifth knitter. Last week included how to fix knitting stitches with a crochet hook, how to read your knitting, and how to give neck edges and shoulder seams support in a very stretchy sweater knitted with bamboo tape, by working a crochet chain invisibly into the fabric from the wrong side.

This is nectar and ambrosia to me. I love to help people. I love to talk about knitting. I love the challenge of not knowing what to expect. I live to see what I call the 'lightbulb moment' that dawns when a knitter who has come into the shop frustrated and confused suddenly gets it.

As our every Friday morning Knit Doctor sessions have become better-known and more popular, it isn't unheard of for me to walk in and see a table full of knitters all sitting and waiting for me, chatting away, and each one knowing just what her place is in the queue. Or others who might not have something they need help with today, who just want to sit and knit with a wonderfully welcoming group of women and learn by listening to the knitting issues of others and the solutions offered. Such an amazing sense of community has developed over these mornings as we sit together and knit and talk about our lives. We've seen wedding pictures, baby pictures, heard stories of what this person's children are doing, and who has had their baby already, and how another woman's husband is feeling after surgery. They are working on socks, shawls, sweaters, hats, dishcloths, scarves - you name it.

When I was a kid living in the mid-Hudson Valley, we used to get a few televisions stations out of New York City that would play nothing but old movies. One of my favorites - for odd reasons - will always be The Body Snatchers. The story is set in a small town in the California hills, and the premise is that aliens have come to earth in the form of 7-foot long pods. These alien pods would replicate particular people by producing an identical physical copy of that person inside the pod. As soon as the intended went to sleep, this perfect-in-every-way-but-one copy would come to life, and the real person would cease to exist. The one fatal flaw the alien copy had is that they felt no emotions at all. Nothing. And they were completely convinced that all humans should embrace this person/pod conversion because life was patently so much easier without being troubled by those pesky emotions. My favorite scene shows the local doctor and his fiance trying to escape an entire town turned pods by pretending to be pods themselves. All worked well with their plan until a little dog ran in front of a car, and Becky just couldn't help but scream.

While a double Cancer like myself will never tell you that the world would be a better place without emotions, I do feel as though I am creating pods, one person at a time. I watch formerly frustrated people relax and laugh, I see knitters with incredible stress in other areas of their lives sit and knit and talk with strangers-become-friends. I've seen tense newbies become relaxed old hands. I love creating knitting pods. Watch out for me, you might be next. And I thank you for the privilege.