Friday, July 22, 2011

Colorsongs

I can't believe it's been over a week since I've blogged! It's been a crazy-busy couple of weeks. Such is the life of a work-at-home mom of two toddlers.

Amid all the chaos, I have gotten a lot of knitting done, thanks to my favorite art form being so portable. I'm finishing the heel flap on the second watermelon tourmaline sock and I've finished the bottom colorwork band on the body of the current self-designed sweater that I'm working on. Today I'll bind off the body and then hopefully I'll finish the sleeves next week, do the math on the pattern and post it! I'm not going to show many details until it's ready to go, but here's the back of the stranded colorwork:


Sigh... even the floats are pretty. For most of it, you're only stranding two colors, but while it transitions from solid black to colorwork and back, there are a few rows where you strand three colors. It's not too big of a bear to do, and I find it to be loads of fun.

The swatch for this sweater design was actually the first stranded colorwork I ever did. That was about 9 months ago and afterwards, I quickly became addicted and have since knitted many stranded items. This sweater can finally come to fruition now after a 9-month gestation period, and I'm so excited for it to be born!

I was intimidated by Fair Isle and stranded colorwork until I was inspired to make this design and thereby became absolutely determined to learn how to do it. Before I even attempted it, I did a lot of Googling and read two books that gave me the knowledge and the courage to try it. First, I read Alice Starmore's absolutely fantastic Book of Fair Isle Knitting. I highly recommend it to anyone at all interested in Fair Isle knitting or stranded colorwork. I learned an unbelievable amount of valuable information from this book and found the history of Fair Isle knitting touching, inspiring and fascinating. This is a wonderful book, which I've gotten out of the library twice now and will add to my home knitting library as soon as I have the spare cash to buy books again.

The second book that I bought and read before attempting stranded colorwork was Nanette Blanchard's Stranded Color Knitting. This one is a must-have, must-read on the subject. I found it indispensable, and after reading it, I felt 100% prepared to design my own stranded colorwork project with no prior experience. As a download, it's only $8.99, too, which completely rocks, given the superb quality of the information inside. This book will teach you everything you need to know about stranded colorwork.

The only thing I still find a bit challenging about stranded colorwork is getting my yarn tangled. I find it manageable when knitting with only two strands, but when I'm knitting with three strands, I often find that my working yarn looks like a friendship bracelet, it's so twisted together. It only takes me a minute to disentangle the yarn every few rows, and I'm sure I'll get better at this aspect with time. For now, I'm just so happy to be doing it, because it's opened up a whole new door of creativity. Damn near every recent design in my sketchbook and in the passion project that the sweater pictured above is a part of involves stranded colorwork to some degree.

Knitting itself is very relaxing for me, but stranded colorwork takes it to a whole new level. It requires a little more focus, and to keep track of the pattern as I'm knitting it, I do a little color-song in my head. "Red red, yellow yellow, red, yellow, red." It's bliss.

I haven't dyed anything in a couple weeks, but I am spinning some of the roving that I dyed. I've got nearly a bobbin full of it as of last weekend and hope to mostly fill another bobbin this weekend. I'll post a pic of that soon. My spinning skills are really coming along.

Tomorrow I hope to acquire some local alpaca fiber at the farmer's market, if they're there this week. I'll definitely post pics of that, if I do!

Wednesday, July 13, 2011

Knitting on the West Seattle Bridge

Last week, I dyed 3 four-ounce chunks of white merino roving. I dyed each using the jar dyeing method, which I've mentioned a lot (because I love it!). I currently only have 6 colors of dye (something I hope to remedy soon), so I'm kind of limited in how many colors I can dye currently, even with mixing, because I wasn't smart enough to get a set of primary colors. Ah, well. I love the results that I've had so far. Here's a four-ounce hunk of roving that I'm calling "Wildflower Riot!"


Those colors just make me happy, especially the cobalt blue. That's my favorite color.

I am spinning a similarly-dyed four-ounce hunk of merino roving, and it's spinning up wonderfully. The beauty of spinning from hand-dyed roving is you control the color changes. You can tear off some roving in whatever color you want and spin it right onto another color. You're not limited to the order in which the colors are dyed. Then you can decide if you want to ply it traditionally and how many plies you want, or you can decide to Navajo ply it and preserve the color changes. I'm not sure yet which route I'll go! I'll post pics when I've got a little more of it spun.

Right now, I've got the 80/20 merino silk that I mentioned going on my Cherub wheel and the dyed merino roving on my Ashford Joy. I have lately only had time to spin on the weekend, so I'm really looking forward to Friday night, when I plan to attack both of them a little more.

In knitting, I'm working on the body of the Knit Picks Capra sweater, and I'm almost ready to start on the stranded colorwork! Yay! I hope to get a good chunk of that done this weekend, too, while my husband is home and can assist if one of the kids really, really needs something midway through a colorwork row!

I'm also working on a sock, the second of the pair I'm knitting in Blue Moon Fiber Arts Mediumweight in the Watermelon Tourmaline colorway. These I've been working on mostly in the car lately.

I love car-knitting. I really, really love it. I get my husband to drive, I grab a sock-in-progress and off we go. It's the perfect thing for an agoraphobic like myself, who's freaked out by crazy big-city traffic. I grew up in Toledo, OH, a mid-sized city on Northwest Ohio. You can get across town in 20 minutes, at any time of day. When I moved to Seattle, I was TOTALLY overwhelmed by the size of it, its labyrinthine nature, and the notoriously awful traffic. We used to live in West Seattle, and I tell you, as much as I loved West Seattle, using the West Seattle Bridge to get into or out of West Seattle nearly drove me batshit. That thing gets the worst clogs and bottlenecks during rush hour with just normal traffic. Throw in an accident or a breakdown, and you can get stuck for hours. We had to go to West Seattle on Monday for a meeting, and of course, right as we got to the West Seattle Bridge, a semi broke down, blocking one lane. It was at 3:00, the beginning of rush hour, so this was a total clusterf$%k. We were the lucky ones... we inched along and made it past the broken down semi in about 20 minutes. On our way back home, that side of the bridge had been CLOSED while they moved the wreck. I shuddered as we drove past the seemingly endlessly backed-up traffic.

Being in heavy traffic like that, not moving, particularly being stuck on any kind of bridge, anywhere on the bridge FREAKS ME OUT. If I had not been knitting at the time, I would have had a panic attack. But nope, I just uttered the occasional swear word and focused on my knitting, stitching away and watching the pretty hand-dyed colors change as the soft, soothing merino slipped through my fingers.

I often say that if I were not addicted to knitting, I'd be addicted to something bad. I thoroughly believe this to be true. Knitting shuts my mind off, it's an all-consuming passion and it makes me happy. It also has no side effects, aside from the beautiful clothing and accessories that you get when you're done.

Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Whatever, Martha!

You might remember a couple posts back that I blogged about the... shall we say, TRYING time I had assembling the pattern pieces for the child's sun hat sewing pattern from the July issue of Martha Stewart Living.

Well, the fun was just beginning. Sunday, I sat down and actually tried to sew the fabric pieces that I'd cut out together and I discovered another problem. The side piece for the child's hat (the .pdf file for which prints out two identical copies of the pattern piece) is about 4 to 5 inches too long. Try to wrap the side piece around the crown piece and you'll see what I mean. I didn't realize this until I had already cut the fabric out and when I was pinning the pieces together to sew them, I had to hack 4 to 5 inches off of the side piece of each fabric.

The brim fit perfectly onto the cut-down side pieces, so the crown and brim are correct. It's only the side piece that's wrong... and you get two copies of it! Awesome!

While assembling and sewing this abominable pain in the ass of a pattern, I was reminded of the show starring Martha's daughter Alexis (who I find extremely likeable... I want to hang out with her!) from a few years ago called "Whatever, Martha!". I actually DVRed it when it was on. In it, Alexis Stewart and a friend named Jennifer showed old clips of Martha Stewart wearing questionable fashion choices and doing bizarre or regrettable craft projects. While the clips played, the two women made snarky comments and it was hysterical. I know Martha herself likely had absolutely nothing to do with this sewing pattern, but still, it was in her magazine, so WHATEVER, MARTHA! Please assemble a QA team to go over your magazine's sewing patterns in the future.

Anyway, the end result of all this confusion, swearing and general pain in my ass was worth it:


I made one for each kid and they turned out adorable. The inside fabric is pink. I haven't ironed the brims yet, so it looks a little floppy and boho at the moment.

Aside from sewing, I've been knitting on the black raglan sweater and dyeing fiber. Here's some merino roving I dyed yesterday morning. I didn't solar dye it, I dyed it on the stove. I just wanted to get a good pic of it in the sun.


I'll post a pic of it when it's dry. It's bright, cobalt blue, green, purple and vermillion. It's drying in the shower right now, looking like some kind of technicolor wool monster. I LOVE it and I think I'm going to turn it into a pair of socks!

Monday, July 4, 2011

Anachronistic holiday

I love long weekends. Even though I do a little bit of something creative every day, be it knitting, spinning, crocheting, dyeing, painting or sewing, I get a hell of a lot more done on the weekend when I have no reason to get up early and my husband is home and can help with the kids.

I've been knitting my ass off on a self-designed top-down raglan sweater, a design that was born 6 months ago but is just now coming to fruition. There will be beautiful stranded colorwork bands around the bottom of the body and sleeves, but right now, you can at least see the raglan seams. Raglan seams are so lovely. I love the way the stitches branch and branch and branch off of each increase:


The yarn is actually a deep, true black. It's Knit Picks Capra, 85% merino, 15% cashmere and to.die.for. It's soft in the skein, softer when knitted and still softer after being washed. The perfect choice for a luxurious sweater, which is what this will be.

Here's last weekend's spinning, some lovely merino which I got the feeling just wanted to be purple.


So here it is becoming purple!


Apparently I really like purple. Before my first daughter was born, I loaded up on spinning fiber, believing (correctly!) that I would not have money for such things for a while. So in my Happy Cabinet in our spare bedroom, 14 oz. of lovely, lovely, purple/blue/gray/gold/white 80% merino/20% silk spinning fiber has been sitting and waiting for me to spin it. The last two nights, I've spun some. The singles are about fingering weight, which is what I wanted. I want about a worsted weight when I ply it.


So, so pretty. Back when I started spinning 4 years ago, I had some of the same fiber and five other colors of 80/20 merino and silk roving that I spun and knitted into a shawl, which is now my favorite shawl. I bought the roving with the plan to spin it and make this shawl with it. Here it is, on my knitwear model bench:


And a detail view:


After I spun it and knitted it, I promptly took it to work, to my gray, bleak cubicle, where it was freezing in the winter and overly air-conditioned in the summer, both to keep myself warm and to serve as a reminder to myself of who I really was and what I really cared about while I toiled at my pointless, soul-sucking corporate job. It worked. It made me happy every time I put it on.

That's sort of why I started knitting and spinning in the first place. It was a creative outlet and also a cry from deep within me for a simpler, quieter life. I couldn't stand the corporate world. I was not at all cut out for it and in hindsight, I have no idea why I, a very square peg, ever tried to cram myself into the round hole that is corporate America. In college I double-majored in Spanish and German and focused on Latin American and German literature. I dreamed of becoming a writer. And then I graduated in the dot-com boom and went into the software industry. Um... WTF?

The frustration and utter lack of fulfillment I experienced during that post-college decade were ultimately valuable because they served to teach me who I really am and what I really care about, so I'm glad I spent that time in that miserable cubicle surrounded by (with the exception of my friends) the living dead.

Now I'm surrounded by inspiration and determined to do what I'm really meant to do, which is care for my family and CREATE! Here's some inspiration that I found outside my bedroom window today. These are some very, very ambitious roses! We cut them way down last fall and after a brutal winter and an equally brutal spring, just look at them. They're flirting with the roof, reaching as high as they can! I'm going to do the same.