Monday, November 22, 2010

Neck Warmers

Sometimes called cowls, but this brings to mind  Batman and sweaters from the 70's, so I'm going with neck warmers. I have been designing & knitting these at a great rate over the past couple of weeks, partly because it's getting cold & my neck is likewise getting cold, & partly because they make great gifts. "Tis the season, after all... :)

The prototype is made from Scheepjes Voluma, no doubt long discontinued. I have a bunch of skeins left over from a long-ago purchase from Elann. It's acrylic & mohair, with enough fuzz to be cosy, but soft enough to wear next to the skin (very important!). Unfortunately, it's also somewhere between a fingering & sport weight, so the prototype didn't further the design process much, but I wear it in the evening when I get cold, & Brendan calls me "mommy ninja" when I pull it up over my nose :) I found the lace pattern in a book called "A Creative Guide to Knitted Lace" by Jan Eaton. I have no idea where I picked it up or when, but it has charted lace which makes the design process much easier.

The dimensions I'm basing my designs on came from the new Interweave Knits holiday supplement. As I was browsing through, the idea of neck warmers appealed to me but neither of the designs in the book did. I wanted lace! Elegant, flowing lace... I swatched the lace for the grey neck warmer & then calculated it for the larger, bottom end, which worked well for the lace I'd chosen, and for the method of decrease I'd worked out for getting it from the larger diameter to the smaller... The neck warmer patterns I'd looked at had used a consistent decrease throughout, so the prototype looks like a blunt-topped triangle. And although I like it very much & wear it all the time, I came up with some better ideas that I have incorporated in the designs for the others.

For one thing, although starting at the bottom does take advantage of the stretchy cast-on (I use the basic cast-on loops because they are the stretchiest, in my experience), but where you really need the stretch is the neck edge, so all the subsequent neck-warmers have been from the top-down. Another design feature I've added is, rather than consistently increase as I go up, I knit around in the cast-on number of stitches for ~4 inches, then I start increasing drastically (8-11 stitches, every 4-6 rounds) so there's less fabric pooling around the neck. I like the elegant look of this design, plus you can see the lace better. For the bottom edges I've been either crocheting-off in loops or using a knitted picot bind-off (found in Meg Swansen's "A Gathering of Lace" also a wonderful source for charted lace patterns). The pink one is the picot. I tried using garter stitch at the bottom edge (as in the prototype), but it just curled up & didn't look pretty at all. I have been blocking them all, too, which makes the bottom edge behave very nicely.

White neck warmer on the needle...

...and finished...

...and on me!
As for fabric, I've settled on alpaca for softness & warmth, in a fingering weight yarn. The pink one is the exception, being made from KnitPicks Capra DK weight (wool & cashmere blend). All of the pictured neck warmers have used just one skein of yarn, except for the white one (which was the second one I made, while I was still experimanting. You'll also notice that the white one has the triangle- rather than funnel- shape, so there's more fabric draped around the neck.) The blue one is from Knitpicks fingering-weight alpaca, and the black & white ones are from Lion Brand's Baby Alpaca (which comes in a range of natural colours). When it comes to absolute softness, the Lion Brand is the winner, but the Knitpicks alpaca is good for colours outside the natural range, & I'm going to get some more of that for some of my more colour-conscious friends & family.  It's a real bonus that you can get a whole neck-warmer out of one skein of yarn, too. None of the yarns I've been using costs more than $7 or $8 per skein.
This one is for me! :)
The most interesting part of this design is getting from smaller circumference (neck) to larger (bottom). I've shown some close-ups of the lace so you can track where the increases have allowed me to add more repeats of lace. I've also had to come up with different ways of adding increases, sometimes double increases less often (as in the pink one) and sometimes single increases more often (blue, white, & black). With single increases I actually switch the method of increase depending on whether I've got an even or odd number of stitches within which to increase. I like using yarn-overs as increases when I can, since it adds to the lacy look.

When looking for likely lace patterns to use, I look for smallish repeats of 7-11 stitches (one not pictured here has a repeat of 16 stitches, which made it harder to work in the increases & made the neck warmer a bit less stretchy than the others). It's easiest to work the increases into the plain stitches at either side of the lace, so I don't worry about trying to find lace already charted in the round. Also, I change how many plain stitches there are between lace repeats to suit the pattern, as long as the resulting lace looks nice it's fine. I've only pulled-out one so far because the lace was so tedious to work. I've got a shetland lace pattern on the needle right now (I am working them all in the round, of course!) that has no knit rounds between the lace rounds ("String of Beads" from Sara Don), and although it is a challenge and the going is slower, I'm enjoying it & the resulting lace (in a rich brown alpaca- yummy!). As you can see, it's a good thing I slowed down & blogged this before there were even more pictures to load! (Maybe I'll put up more pictures as I go...) And, did I mention that I can get one of these done in about 1 1/2 evenings of knitting? Such fun... ;)

Monday, November 8, 2010

Bertie the Bus

While my son Brendan was in elementary school he was fortunate enough to have had the same consultant teacher, Cherie, from 3rd grade to 8th grade. Not only was Cherie just about everything you'd want in a consultant teacher, patient, creative, resourceful, & smart, she is also a lovely person. About when we transcended "team" and became family I'm not sure, but it may have been around the time she had her first son, who celebrated his 3rd birthday last week. Even during the summer vacations we'd try to get together with Cherie & Nick at least once to catch up & play (no work allowed!). Last February we welcomed Nick's little brother, Matt, to our extended family :) And now, since Brendan's no longer in elementary school, we have to do some planning in order to see Cherie & her guys (husband Scott included). Yesterday evening we all got together for dinner & trains & birthday prezzies- yay!

The trains are a big part of visits to our house, since Nick adores Thomas the Tank Engine just like Brendan did! It is so much fun (& nostalgic) to get Brendan's trains & track out & watch them go for it. The Thomases were one of my favourite parts of Brendan's early childhood. We started with the little figure 8 track & moved quickly into more track & accessories and larger, more elabourate layouts (that was my fun). We immersed ourselves in the big book of stories, the videos, & Brendan's first movie in a theatre was "Thomas and the Magic Railroad" when he was four. And although the Thomases have been put away for many years (replaced by nearly a million legos, I think) Brendan had as much fun playing trains yesterday as Nick did :)

For Nick's birthday I decided to make something practical plus something fun. Practical was the stripey earflap hat and fun was my attempt to make Bertie the Bus as an amigurumi. I had thought of doing Thomas but all the different planes & shapes that make up a tank engine made it hard to wrap my head around, but a bus is, essentially, a rectangle, and I can crochet rectangles!!

I wanted all the embellishments to be well tacked-on (because of baby brother), so I opted to crochet the eyes rather than use buttons. I crocheted half a circle with black & then the other half and next round with white, to give the eyes some character, & I like how they turned out. The wheels & windows are all circles & rectangles, with an embroidered smile, and the only other fancy bit was the back bumper, where I used South American crochet to carry 2 colours so I could have a contrast license plate. I didn't want it to be too big for him to grab easily, so I used KnitPicks Comfy cotton fingering weight yarn and a size C/2/2.75mm needle to make a firm fabric, then stuffed it with fibrefill.
And, true to 3-year-old form, Nick was happy to let baby brother model his hat, but he did have Bertie the Bus join in the train play, which made me very happy! :)

Tuesday, November 2, 2010

Fibre-Reactive Dyeing

Last week I was busy dyeing silk scarves for a church fundraiser. The technique is something I cobbled together from various sources, and it works for any protein-based fibre (basically of animal origin, like wool & silk) although different fibres take the dye with different intensities. I use fibre-reactive dyes (I purchase them from Dharma Trading Company) which are also called procion dyes. The way I fix the colour, or make it permanent, is by using white vinegar and heat. Silk scarves come out quite dramatically, as you can see, and you would hardly believe I was able to dye them in my microwave, all in one day :)

This sort of dyeing is one of the few things that makes me glad I have an unfinished basement, so that I don't have to worry as much about the dye getting all over. That doesn't mean that I don't put down dropcloths (I dye in the laundry area, so I have to protect the washer & dryer & anything else my laundry might come into contact with, or else I'll regret it!). I actually use a well-protected washer & dryer as my staging areas, since the nearby stationary tub is an important part of the process.

Because I want to get right down to the dyeing, I use silk scarf blanks which I also purchase from Dharma. I like a minimum length of 72", and usually use the 14"x72" silk habotai scarves. I have also used the silk chiffon scarves, which are nice but not as shiny. Dharma also has habotai silk veil blanks, which are gorgeous & floaty. The end result is more like a silk shawl, but it's so light it can go around your neck like a scarf. I've experimented a lot with the different blanks that Dharma has & have settled-on the habotai scarves because of their price & versatility. But any silk scarf can by dyed using this process, so I do recommend messing around with different ones till you find what you like.

The same goes for colour. I have a about 12 colours that I use regularly, but you could get by very nicely with just 5 or 6 basic colours, which is nice for starting out. The dyes arrive in powder form, which means they'll last a long time, but you alsohave to mix them with water to use them (the Dharma catalog & website has good directions for mixing for tie-dyeing, which is essentially what I'm doing). That's about the only part of the process that is toxic (since you mustn't inhale the powder), so a mask is essential. I also use disposable latex gloves for most of the process (because they're lighter & less clumsy than rubber gloves) & I get my masks & gloves at American Science and Surplus. To hold the dyes in liquid form I recycle my dish soap bottles from Mrs. Meyers (I love the lavender scent :). These bottles are much sturdier than the usual dish soap bottles, but you can try grocery store ones & see if they work as well. My bottles hold 16 oz. which are on the large-ish side for squirting inside the bags, but they also last longer so I'm not mixing as often (a good thing). Something else that that you need for mixing is a measuring teaspoon, and funnels make the whole process much easier. I got by for a few years by making paper funnels ahead of time, but they aren't as stable as plastic & when you're trying to minimise the mess, using something tippy and wonky doesn't hold back entropy- or so I have discovered...

This is probably a good time to mention that equipment used for any dyeing must be segregated from your usual kitchen tools. Even though the liquid dyes aren't harmful, they're not to be ingested either, so you're safest using dyeing tools for dyeing only. That goes for potholders, towels, measuring cups, you get the drift. Since I dye in my knarly basement I have shelves to store my dye equipment & never bring it upstairs unless I'm using the stove (or microwave).

Other equipment needed for fibre-reactive dyeing is: 2 gallon ziplok bags, a glass pie plate or casserole that fits in the microwave, at least a gallon of white vinegar (from the grocery store), a drying rack of some sort, & a large bucket is helpful, as is something called synthrapol (Dharma has their own brand of this), which is a soap used to prevent colours from bleeding when dyed items are washed in it.

I use 10 lb. flour bins for my soaking buckets because they're sturdy, have good lids, and I had them laying around :) I label everything, so there's no possibility of getting mixed up, and because I have a bucket for soda ash solution (for dyeing plant-based fibres like cotton t-shirts) as well as a bucket for vinegar. I always put the lids back on after taking something out to be dyed, so I won't spill dye into a bucket with undyed scarves in it.

Scarves need to be soaked for at least an hour, but overnight is best. Once I'm ready to go- dyes mixed, area protected, ziplok bags out, gloves on, ah! I nearly forgot! Wear at least an apron, if not old clothes to dye in. There's nothing like dyes that need fixative to stay permanent for staining what you don't want dyed anyway- go fig. I actually found an old lab coat for this bit of dyeing. It provided much more cover than an apron & it was warmer... our basement is getting colder as the year turns. Anyway, once I'm ready to go, I think a bit about colourways. I have evolved some colour combos & theories in the past few years of dyeing. The scarves take the dyes brilliantly, so it's all a matter of thinking of what's popular & what's fun, why are you dyeing scarves & for whom. I use a minimum of 3 dyes per scarf, & try to think in terms of adding "zing" to my combos, so they won't be boring. Zing colours are unexpected in some way, but can also tie things together. That said, I also usually do scarves in colourways of blues/greens/purples or reds/maroons/bronze. Fuschia, amethyst, & grape are crossover colours, as is yellow. Yellow is very difficult to keep as just yellow, since it tends to be overcome by neighbouring colours in the rinsing. So I like to use yellow to change turquoise to a beautiful green, and red & fuschia to shades of orange & peach. Since these scarves are for a fundraiser, I don't want to make anything too weird to be enjoyed by someone out there...

The basic technique for dyeing is this:
Pull from 1-3 scarves out of the bucket & squeeze out excess vinegar. If I'm doing more than 6 scarves I'll do them in sets of 2 or 3, although it's harder to get enough dye into 3 scarves & there's a risk of some white places remaining. If I do sets, I fold each scarf differently, so the colours will take in different places & make each scarf unique. I fold them in thirds or fourths & lay them inside a 2 gallon ziplok in a horseshoe shape. Then I decide which colour will be the middle of the horseshoe, the transition colour, and start there. I shake the bottle of dye, pop up the top, put the bottle in the bag, & squirt dye onto the scarves, working it into the scarves with my free hand (needless to say, both hands are gloved). I roll the scarves a bit to make sure the dye is getting to the other side, & keep squirting & mooshing until I've covered enough area. Retreat from bag, rinse hands & bottle, grab next colour, head back into the bag to colour one of the legs of the horseshoe. Make sure that there's plenty of dye in the transition areas from one colour to another. That's where the most interesting stuff happens!

Once the whole thing is coloured, I rinse, & then zip the bag except for the last 2 inches (very important!!). I place the bag in the glass pie plate, take it upstairs with the potholder, place the plate & bag in the microwave, & microwave for 2 minutes. If you're the nervous type, go back & dye the next scarf(ves) rather than waiting around. It gets very big & puffy in the microwave & you always think it's going to pop, but if you left 2" open it won't! The potholder is for carrying the plate back to the stationary tub, where I leave the bag to cool while colouring/microwaving the rest of the batches.

 Silk doesn't felt, so you don't actually have to let it cool completely before rinsing (like you have to do with wool yarn). I switch to regular rubber gloves for rinsing because they're stronger. At the rinsing step I find it helpful to segregate the colours by red tones & blue/green tones, which prevents muddying as they soak. I first rinse each bag of scarf(ves) in coolish water to remove the vinegar, minimising the chance of muddying the colours, and rinse the bags as well so they can be dried & reused- I have some I've been using for 2-3 years, surprising but true. Then I put the red tones in one bucket or side of the stationary tub, and the blue/greens in another with lots of lukewarm water to soak. After a half an hour or hour, dump out the water & refill. Repeat. I usually add synthrapol after about 3 or 4 rinses & then make sure that gets rinsed out. When the rinse water looks more like weak koolaid, I call it quits & put everything through the spin-only cycle of my washer. Then I hang them all up on drying racks. (In the picture of orange/purplish scarves, you may notice one that's orange with yellow stripes. That one was made using natural dyes- safflower and brazilwood- and a shibori technique.)

The wool yarn in the picture above was dyed using pretty much the same technique. As you can see in the ball in the middle, not all wool takes the dye with the same intensity. The middle ball is 100% wool & it takes the dyes with the least intensity. Adding silk (the bottom-middle ball is wool/silk blend) makes a big difference, as does adding nylon, in the case of sock wool, or using wool superwash wool, which covers all the rest of the skeins. As mentioned above, you also have to let the skeins cool completely before rinsing, and for that matter, you have to dye them in the skein, making sure the skein is tied in at least 4 places to prevent tangling. 

I hope this little foray into the fun of  fibre-reactive dyeing inspires someone else to give it a try! Let me know how it goes...

Monday, October 25, 2010

The Multnomah Shawl

This summer, my friend Gail was surfing the net looking for shawl patterns & came up with this jewel: The Multnomah Shawl. It's a little shawlette made with just one 100g skein of sock wool, & hers came out so beautifully I had to make one myself.

I have been knitting shawls for quite a few years, & have not only designed my own shawls but taught workshops on how to design your own shawl (not to blow my own horn, but to add perspective :). This pattern is quite lovely & the addition of the lace occurs quite naturally, just when you're ready for a bit of a challenge, after knitting along mindlessly in garter for a while. I changed only one thing in the pattern, which was to make the edge increases M1 rather than "knit through front & back of loop", because I really prefer the look of the "make 1" increase.

I made this one in KnitPicks Stroll tonal, Spruce colour, & I had to use a size #2 needle to make gauge (down 2 or 3 sizes from what was suggested). Although I love the look of Feather & Fan (the name of the lace used in this shawl) it's one of those lace patterns that I find easy to mess-up if I'm not paying attention. I found this out the hard way a few years ago when I used it as the pattern for an enormous handspun stole- I worked very hard on that shawl, with all the ripping, until I got the clue: add markers between the repeats of lace, so if I messed up, I knew much sooner & only had to rip back a repeat or so's worth of stitches rather than the whole darn thing. I did the same on this shawl & was glad I did!

A new experience with this shawl was that I have never really just cast-off a shawl edge, but usually crochet loops or  make knitted-edgewise lace for a stretchy, blockable edge. I used a #4 needle for the cast-off, so the edge would be loose, and although you can't really block sock wool very much (thanks to the nylon content), I blocked it anyway for a finished look.

This shawl will be a gift, mostly because Christmas is coming (!) and I don't need another shawl... but I do need presents to give! I think the next one (it took 6 weeks to make only because I was working along very desultorily, having loads of other projects laying about) will be my own version, with a different lace edging. It's a quick-to-make gift and, as I mentioned at the top, really pretty!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Sock Projects

It's not all just crochet around here, although my most recent posts make it seem so... Here in the northeastern US it gets cold, so we need a good supply of woolies to help us through. For many years, a big part of the summer ritual was getting a good start on wool socks for Brendan, since he grew like mad & rarely could he wear the same socks from winter to winter. A couple of years ago he slowed down, foot-growth-wise, although he still shoots skyward at an alarming rate :) So I am knitting for him at a more desultory pace, and am alternating socks for me with socks for him this year.

The socks for him are in process, from KnitPicks Stroll sock wool (Lily Pad Multi). I have to work them on size 0 needles because I knit so loosely, that's the only way I can get within 7 sts/inch gauge (what I find to be a good fabric for socks in fingering-weight yarn). I work them on 2 circulars, & wooden/bamboo needles snug up the gauge even more, so that's what I prefer to use (although I went through a distressing number of wooden needles over the summer by sitting on them & snapping them, or snagging them in baskets & losing one needle out of the cable- let's hope I've learned my lesson!) Brendan's feet are now ~ men's size 9, so I work them on 72 stitches around, adjusting the length about 1/4"-1/2" every year as he grows.

The socks for me are from Veronik Avery's "Knitting 24/7" in a lacy faux cable stitch that looked fun to try. Unlike Brendan's plain-knit ones, these were not mindless knitting, & I had to rip each sock back a couple of times because I lost my place in the lace. They were also knit in KnitPicks Stroll (tonal raspberry) and on the same size 0 needles. I like them a lot. They're lacy enough to be cute, but no less warm for the lace. Building on this less-than-mindless trend, I plan to tackle toe-up (my first for at least for 10 years...) socks. I'll let you know how they go!

Friday, October 22, 2010

Lindsay's Lace

Here is another project that I was waiting to post (until after the gift was given :) but then things got busy... Our friend Lindsay got married in late August &, as she was combining households with her new husband, it took some creativity to think of something to give her that she wouldn't already have. I decided that everyone could use a little lace on occasion, & decided to make her some odds & ends that she could use around the house- under lamps, as coasters, a small runner for dinners, that sort of thing. I had already made shower presents for her (domino knitted trivet & dishcloths) using a natural palette of browns & creams, so I stayed with the same yarn (KnitPicks Simply Cotton organic yarns) but went from worsted weight to sport, for crocheted lace.

I used motifs from the wonderful book again & it was a lot of fun to mess around- combining the motifs & the colours. For example, I really love how the lace in the top picture forms a wreath in the middle when you put 4 motifs together...

Once again, this lace can be washed by machine or hand, & just patted out flat to dry. I blocked them with pins (as you can see) to make it nice, which is an easy next step, but not necessary to useability. 

I do wonder sometimes if these ideas I get for prezzies are just weird, or do they work out the way I hope? I sure hope they are enjoyed as much as I enjoyed making them!

Thursday, October 21, 2010

Patty's Lace

Well, I had to wait to post this until after my friend Patty's birthday, but then I got so busy that I'm posting it way after! Ah well...

My friend Patty likes the colour combo of black & red, & her home has lovely modern touches that make black & red a natural, so for her birthday this year I decided to make a table runner for her. The motif I chose is from that wonderful book of crochet motifs from Japan. I chose KnitPick's Comfy Fingering yarn (in Black, White, & Hollyberry) because it's easily washed- I feel strongly that it takes something away from a gift if it isn't practical, so I like my friends to be able to take care of things I give them without worrying.

The beginning of a motif project can be a bit nerve-wracking- even if the motifs look nice, will they look nice together? How long should it be? Will the giftee like it? As it all came together, I liked it more & more. It was hard to stop crocheting!

Each motif is about 5" wide,  so although I didn't measure the runner, I estimate it ended-up about 40" long. I had fun alternating the red & black filler motifs, just to add interest.
 I found a matching red & black bag & paper to wrap it in :) and we celebrated her birthday at a favourite Japanese restaurant. I hope she enjoys using it as much as I enjoyed making it :)

Tuesday, October 19, 2010

I can crochet a towel... (but does it work?)

Hello! Sorry it's been so long since I updated. I think that all the busyness around the beginning of school took a few weeks to make itself apparent, but now we're over the bump. It hit me this morning, as I dropped Brendan off at school, that I don't so much drop him off as he releases me into the world when he gets out of the car. If I'm busy that morning, then the uneasy feeling doesn't get through to me... but when I'm not busy, the rest of the morning feels awfully empty. The nice thing is that, when I'm energetic, I have been Doing Things with this time (deep-cleaning various parts of the house, making curry powder from scratch, learning how to make coffee cake all over again). When I'm not so energetic, I think about the holidays coming up, & what do I need to start making for whom (then I sit at the computer & order yarn :).

I am in the midst of designing 2 sweaters from crocheted motifs, & it's become apparent that I need a dress form to make headway on at least one of these projects. I dug out my old Threads magazine files & found the article about making dress forms from duct tape. Charlie seems up for it :) so I'll let you know how it goes!

Today's headliner project is one of those near-to-my-heart things- how to make something that is useful, beautiful, & above-all, hand-made! And how much more basic can you get, project-wise, than a towel? I have been trying to make towels for years, & happily, I have succeeded more often than I've failed. But the best towels (so far) have been handwoven & I just don't have the free brain cells these days to weave, so next-sturdiest fabric for towel-making, to my mind, is crochet. Last Spring I found a crocheted ripple-pattern towel pattern at Lion Brand that called for their Recycled Cotton yarn, so I gave it a try. I had to rip the pattern & start again a few times before I could get it right (which got me searching for a better ripple pattern- more on that later...) but eventually I produced a finished towel- hooray! I was very pleased to ensconce it in the downstairs bathroom (where I have the most need for hand-towels) & put it to work. This is where I re/discovered that towels need to be more than just rectangular & somewhat larger than your hand- they need to be Absorbent. Lion Brand Recycled Cotton yarn is nice stuff, great for shawls, etc, but it is made from a certain amount of non-natural (unnatural?) fibres, which seriously impedes the absorbency. So much for just picking up pattern, yarn, hook, & making something...

(In other words, had I actually thought about it, I'd never have chosen that yarn to make a towel, so why did I suspend my good sense just because the towel pattern called for this yarn...?)

The desire to crochet a towel then sent me into 2 different directions: the search for a reliable (understandable, dare I say, simple?) ripple pattern, & the search for yarn that is absorbent enough to be made into towels. My weaving experience tells me that 100% cotton is a good place to start :) so I decided to try KnitPicks' Simply Cotton Sport yarn, using the Toffee, Ginger, & Malted Milk colours from their organic yarns' line. I was also fortunate to run into a lovely ripple pattern from dear Lucy at Attic 24. If you like ripples, hers is very simple to make & remember, so give it a try! I swatched it first, & found I liked the fabric I got with a G/6/4.00mm hook. The finished towel is 12.5"x30" because I wanted a decent-sized towel when I was done.

How does it work? The pattern was a dream to crochet- fun & relaxing. The striping sequence was easy to keep track of (& based mostly on what yarn I had on hand...). So I have successfully found a ripple pattern (yay!). Is it absorbent? The jury's still out on that one. It wasn't very absorbent before it was machine-washed, and after one washing it's a bit more, but not nearly as much as one of my hand-woven towels. However, I (and my patient family) am giving it more time. It does look really nice in the bathroom though, doesn't it? :)

Monday, September 6, 2010

Instant Inspiration

In my last post I mentioned that I find winding wool to be, among other thing, inspiring. Mostly because  it allows me to use previously unavailable yarn :) Among the recently wound balls were 6 skeins of bulky yarn that I had dyed a couple of summers ago. They were among a bunch of skeins (see bottom photo in my last post) that I dyed that summer using natural dyes- and most of them stayed in skein form for a long time after... Why? Sometimes I really like looking at the skeins. They took an awful lot of work, these skeins, so maybe there's a bit of losing the point of dyeing them & just wanting to appreciate them as they are. After two years, though, it's time!!!

Before I talk about making the bag, a little background on how they were dyed. The yarn I used was KnitPicks Wool of the Andes bulky weight, which has 137 yards per 100 gm. Although I won't go into the techniques for naturally dyeing the yarn (except to say that in most cases it took at least 2 times in a boiling pot to get the dyes onto the wool), the dyes I used were as follows: red- brazilwood, orange- brazilwood 2nd bath, gold- onion skins, green- yarrow+indigo, blue- indigo, & purple- brazilwood+indigo.

Yesterday right before dinner, with those newly-wound skeins on my mind, I looked online at Lucy's crocheted bag pattern, swatched a bit to find the best hook for this wool & project, & got started. I ended-up choosing a US size I/9 (5.50 mm) needle, to make a fabric that's not too loose, but not so stiff that it stands up like a basket, either. I worked the increase rounds just as she did, but since it's bulky yarn, & I wanted enough yarn left over to make a strap & embellishments, I only worked half as many increase rounds as Lucy did. As there were 6 colours, I worked the stripes in sets of 6, arranged in rainbow order- I am nearly addicted to rainbows & rainbow order, to the point that I tend to arrange our one set of rainbow-coloured dishes in rainbow order when they come out of the dishwasher. Go fig.

The entire bag is just 4 repeats of the 6-stripe pattern, with the final purple stripe as the decorative, shell-stitch edge. One technique I learned from using Lucy's pattern was to slip stitch into the first double crochet in each round (after joining the last round with a slip stitch to the top of the chain 3), which eliminates the jog that happens when you change colours, & which also makes the beginning of the rounds spiral up the bag in a barely detectible way. Some things I changed were: I crocheted over the tails from changing colours for the first few inches of every round, leaving ~2" at the end to work back in (in the opposite direction). This took some time off the final weaving-in of ends. I also made a different strap, & since the bag was narrower, I decided that one long strap would suit my tote-lifestyle better. I sewed the strap into the inside of the bag, too, instead of the outside.

For flower decoration, I went to Suzann Thompson's "Crochet Bouquet" & used the "Topsy Turvy #2" flowers. I had a lot of fun with the placement of the flowers & stems, & choosing fun buttons from the stash :) The bag was done by 2:00 this afternoon, so it took less than a day of crochet (with plenty of time for sleep & meals :)

I am looking forward to using my new tote- perhaps to carry yet another craft project...?

Sunday, September 5, 2010

Winding Wool!

Yesterday I was feeling energetic (in other words, my arthritis wasn't getting in the way :) so I spent some time winding wool. This is one of those love/hate fibre tasks, for me at least. Probably one reason for the "hate" aspect is that my set-up for winding wool isn't the most optimum. My winder is clamped to the side of an old, fold-down desk, putting it at an awkward angle for winding. The non-awkward part of the set-up (which overrules the awkward parts) is that the table of the desk accomodates my swift & the desk is really close to my loom & other fibre accoutrements. (OK, so there are 2 computers in the room as well, part of our slightly schizoid tekkie/back to the land lifestyle...)

My swift (the wooden contraption in the back left of the photo) is an absolute gem. It came to me so many years ago that I didn't know what it was. Our church used to have a yearly rummage sale & I would help out the (mostly older) ladies with various aspects of the sale, which was a great way to get to know these lovely ladies... this was back in the late 70's & early 80's, so most of them are gone now, but I have so many fond memories of this bygone era of our church community... Anyway (I digress), they all knew I was a knitter & seamster, so anything even vaguely fibre-related was put aside & quietly sent my way, as they all knew I had very little money for my fibre past-times back then. The swift had belonged to a passed-on member of the church known for her needlepoint (it came with a frame & lots of small skeins of wool, too). Most of this booty was put away because I didn't really know how to use it, but luckily it all followed me around in my nomadic 20's. It wasn't until more than 10 years later, when I became a handspinner, that I realised it was a swift- an essential piece of handspinning equipment. I have never seen a swift like it, outside of museums... It's small, made entirely of wood, & sits on a stand (most are huge & clamp to the side of a table). So I love my little swift, & was contemplating it's long & serendipitous service yesterday as I wound wool from it.

So, I made room among the wool baskets by the desk to set a chair, to make winding less stressful to my back. And then I just started winding... The little skeins of wool (in the basket) were given to me by a friend who had dyed them at a natural dye workshop some years ago & then never used them. They are all well labeled with plant source & mordant, & as I wound them I got some ideas for dyes I hadn't tried before (marigold!). Maybe I'll make them into crochet motifs...

The balls in the front left are bulky wool that I dyed with natural dyes two summers ago. They are light on yardage, being bulky weight, but I think that I could crochet a small tote from them. Lucy at Attic24 has a nifty bag pattern that I've been wanting to try. The thicker wool would work up quickly & give me a sturdy bag, I think. I could even embellish with lighter wools that were dyed in the same dye pots (see photo at the end...).

There are some largish balls of sock-weight wool in the back, which are from Knitpicks. I broke down & bought one of the "Cruise" kits- 4, 100-gram skeins of their tonal sock wool & patterns for 12 different socks. I have been knitting socks again (it must be Fall) & all the lacey patterns appealed to me. As it turns out (& I should have known...) they are all toe-up socks, which is a technique I haven't done much with, in my long sock-making career. Looks like I'm in for "another learning experience" soon... The colours of the sock wool are just gorgeous, though, which will be incentive.

Last, but not least, there's a skein of indigo-dyed, worsted-weight wool, (left side, middle) dyed two summers ago in my orgy of natural dyeing... It's been hanging off the loom for so long I can't remember when it landed there. It just needed to be wound.

And then there's the skeins of wool still needing to be wound...

Some lovely stuff in there. It's all very inspiring, and with the changing of the seasons, I'm ready for some fun!

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

どうですか。。。(What do you think?)

You may recognise these motifs from a few posts ago :) After making 7 rows of 13 pinwheel motifs, I took a hard look at it & the possibilities. If I wanted a mini-afghan I'd be working 'till Christmas, so I downsized my ideas & messed around with the fabric a bit. 

If you look carefully you can see that the edges are on the diagonal (follow the line of buttons from lower right to upper left in this photo to see it). I wondered what would happen if I made a tube & added one more set of motifs to unite it all. I started to do this & it looked as if it would make a 14"-16" square- perfect for a cushion cover! So I went looking deeply into the attic/sewing/treasure room & found a 12"x16" cushion form. I like to use what's at hand, so I snipped out the 2 uniting motifs I'd put in & wrapped the resulting tube around the form- it fit perfectly if I overlapped the beginning & ending rows, which would make for a nice opening to insert the form (something I hadn't figured out yet anyway).

For the ends of the fabric tube I used the black yarn I'd decided not to use for the motifs- I'm so glad I reserved it! I held the ends together & crocheted through both layers (3 layers where the motifs overlap- you can see it at the top of this picture, the purple on top of light blue), making it up as I went along. I added a decorative second row to the ends- you can see the shell stitch & picots I used to jazz them up. I decided on 2 rows of buttons to fasten the overlapped motifs at the opening, since the bottoms of the inside motifs might migrate over time & get bunchy. The lower set of buttons are shiny brass ones (there were exactly 7 of them, which is what I needed), recycled from who knows what, who knows when... found in my button stash. The second row of buttons are random ones from said stash. They looked cute & add to the random-colour-ness of this project. I used the same yarn in white (stuffed into a thin tapestry needle) to sew the buttons on, & I kept the leftover in the needle just in case these buttons don't survive "life with Brendan" :) (He's a bit hard on the decor lately, as his body is growing at an amazing rate & when he throws himself on the sofa these days, everything goes flying...)

I am very pleased with this little cushion (that only just found out that it's a cushion...). 

Monday, August 30, 2010

Easy Zipper Pouches

Before I talk about these little pouches, I have to confess something. I adore containers of any sort. It borders on obsession... I have the hardest time throwing out any sort of box or bag, although recently the promise of recycling has made it easier to part with the less lovely items. My very patient family is well aware of this... eccentricity (?) of mine, and they do their best to work around the various collections (tins, bottles, boxes, bags, totes, pouches...). The bonus to this is that I don't mind giving my treasures away, usually as gift wrapping. So if you're at the party, you'll always know the gift I brought because it's a recycled bag from Japan with lovely flowers (& illegible to most, but very decorative kanji of the store's name) on it :) Whew- good to get that off my chest!

These little pouches were a summer brainstorm. I learned last year, while working in Carol Norton's "Tapestry Crochet" book (picked up years before, but since I wasn't crocheting, I hadn't done anything with it), that putting a zipper into crochet fabric isn't all that bad. I sewed it in by hand, of course, & it went along very quickly, nicely, & invisibly. A big help were applique pins (which are not even an inch long) because they hold the zipper in without getting in the way of sewing (very much).

After this zipper experience, a couple of ideas occurred to me- wouldn't it be even easier to sew the zipper in if the pouch wasn't already a pouch (not sewn together yet), & wouldn't it be neat to make pouches from crocheted motifs? Of course the motifs would have to be
relatively hole-less (not lacy) or the contents would fall out. So I looked in my motif books & found this one (# 90 in Edie Eckman's "Beyond the Square Crochet Motifs" - a book I use all the time, because it has charts, & because it's organised very nicely). It's designed to be knit with 2 colours, like the orange & red one (made with KnitPicks Comfy fingering, 75% cotton & 25% acrylic yarn), but if you look closely it does give a jog when you change colours. I don't really mind this, but I thought it would be fun to try it in a variegated yarn (this one is Noro sock wool), too. I used a "c" hook (2.75 mm) to get a tight fabric without making it like cardboard.

The motifs, both made in fingering-weight yarn, are about 4" square, I just kept crocheting the motif until it fit the 4" zippers, the smallest I could find. I made two motifs for each pouch (of course) & the other side of the Noro one is grey & blue, due to the yarn's long colour changes.

The main excitement of sewing the zipper in is to match the sides properly when you sew each one to the zipper. I sewed the zipper tape to the wrong side of each motif, then put the pouch wrong sides together (just as you see them in the picture) & used the tails from the motifs (cut ~ 18" long) to sew the motifs together invisibly into the last round of crochet. If I had put them right sides together to sew them, they would have lost their "motif-ness" & I wanted them to look just as they had when I finished crocheting them.

I like the way they turned out. They are a good size & the fabric works well as a pouch. I gave the orange/red one to Sis, my new mother-in-law, & the other one is in my purse, keeping things under control. It took me maybe 3-4 evenings to finish each pouch, so it's a good gift project, especially with fun yarns & colours :) I hope to experiment with other shapes & fibres next.

Monday, August 23, 2010

Making simple crocheted shawls & scarves...

a few crocheted scarves
Although I'm still figuring out the design ins & outs for crocheted triangle shawls, it's really simple to make rectangular shawls (& scarves, of course). The main things you need are a good stitch guide, an array of different-sized hooks, the yarn of your choice, & some common sense about making fabrics.

The bottom line when making anything knitted or crocheted (or tatted, or bobbin-laced, or whatever your needlework choice) is to understand that you are making fabric. And, no matter how you shape it, the fabric you make should work well for the purpose you're making it.  In other words, the fabric you want to make for socks is not the same fabric that works well for a shawl. Socks' fabric should be sturdy enough to keep your toes in, yet stretchy enough to fit over your foot, & not so bulky that they won't fit in your shoes. Shawl fabric, even for very thick, warm shawls, needs some drape so you can wrap it around you. It can have quite large holes & still be shawlish, but fabric crocheted or knitted too tightly will end up being more of a blanket (or table-protector :) than a shawl.

One reason I abandoned crochet almost entirely more than 25 years ago is that I couldn't make the kinds of fabric that I wanted to with crochet. I wanted to make sweaters, but the fabric I ended-up making (using patterns & working to gauge) was too thick. I wanted to make mittens & socks, sweaters & shawls, so I turned to knitting & only got my hooks out when I needed a crocheted edge on a shawl, or when I needed to make a repair on fabric I was weaving.

my wedding gift to my new mother-in-law, Sis
As I mentioned in a prior post, a crochet motif book caught my eye in a craft store in Japan, nearly a year & a half ago, & after all these years, I am crocheting (like mad) again. I think the main reason I'm having so much fun (& so little frustration) with crochet these days is that I've finally figured-out the fabric thing. Not only have I been making knitted fabric for all these years (more than 30, if you count my "serious" knitting years) and felt confident enough in my fabric-making to have been a knitting teacher for more than 15 years, but I finally took the plunge into weaving about 8 years ago, which is probably the ultimate in fabric-making. In all of these different endeavours, there is a common thread- swatches. The only way to really know what kind of fabric you're going to get with yarn & needles, or yarn & hook, or yarn & loom, is to swatch it- make a small sample see what you get. And feel it. Wash it, stretch it, smoosh it, drape it. Feel it again. The you'll know if you're making sock fabric or shawl fabric. And if you want to make socks & the fabric feels like a shawl, then you need to do some adjusting, either in your yarn or your needle(s).

shawl from crocheted motifs
I think that another reason I'm having fun with crochet these days is that I have had a lot experience with lots of yarns- all sorts of fibres, blends, & especially weights of yarns- over these years of fabric-creating. I remember a time when lace or fingering yarn would have given me the shakes (too thin! too much! it'll take too long!!), but now I have a house full of it (my husband heaves a sigh...  ;) At some point in my fibre explorations I became a process person, for whom the process was just as rewarding as the final product. This mindset really helps when working in fine yarns. (Learning to spin my own yarn also took some of the scary out of working with various fibres & weights of yarn...)

shawl (& small crocheted cap for Sage) for my friend Katie
So, from an adventurous perspective, & loaded with lots of skinny yarns, I'm enjoying the process of figuring out how to make lovely, drapey fabrics from crochet. One of the ironies is that, although I'm finding the skinny yarns to be very useful, most of the scarves & shawls in this post were made from Lion Brand Recycled Cotton yarn, which is a light worsted weight. I did swatch it thoroughly, & took notes as to which hook gave the best shawlish fabric. Katie's & Sis's shawl stitches came from Linda Schapper's "The Complete Book of Crochet Stitch Designs" (Lark Books - & the companion book  "300 Classic Blocks for Crochet Projects" by the same author is also a favourite of mine). I added a crocheted-in fringe to Sis's, which worked well. The picture of Katie's (blue) shawl captures the drape of this relatively thick yarn. Two of the three scarves at the top are also made from Recycled Cotton yarn. The smaller, white & taupe one was made from an alpaca blend, sport weight yarn. It's the same stitch (from the same book) as the green one in that picture, but you can see the difference the weight of yarn makes... & I put motifs at the end to jazz them up a bit :) The orange shawl made from motifs is from lace-weight wool that I shibori-dyed (the colour gradations were very subtle, so they don't show up in the picture).  The motifs were put-together geometrically & simply, with no edging. Same for Katie's & Sis's shawls, which were made by repeating the same stitch pattern until it was big enough.

There is so much fun in producing something that works- does what it's supposed to do & feels good. I look forward to continuing my exploration of crocheted fabrics (& sharing them ;).