More Swatches

No really…swatches are all I’m knitting these days.

I’ve probably explained this before, but for me a book usually goes 1) have an idea, 2) source yarn, 3) swatch and write patterns, 4) send yarn and patterns off to magical stunt knitters to turn into projects, 5) get the patterns into proper book format and have them edited, 6) get projects back and take photos, 7) more editing, 8) printing.  Now there’s more to it than that (I left out the traditional ‘all my ideas are crap’ crisis that invariably happens somewhere in the middle), and there’s some overlap (for example, a few of the pieces for Curls 3 are actually already finished while the last few patterns haven’t yet been written).  But that’s the general process.  And now? Now I’m in that swatch swatch swatch and write patterns stage.

One of the swatches I’m totally happy with (meaning it’s ready to move onto being knit and formatted and edited and generally made official) is this giant cable in Bijou Basin Ranch’s Tibetan Dream.  I’m a sucker for a big cable, and this one goes together in a sort of unusual way that’s a lot of fun to do.

And I’m also loving this simple little bit of magic in Miss Babs Sojurn. The yarn is so amazing I didn’t want to mess around with it too much…just that simple little braided line is enough (plus you get to feel all clever for making your knitting turn and go sideways…I promise it’s not as tricky as it looks).

They either are or will soon be with knitters, and I’ll be working on cooking up schemes for more of the yarns.  If you want to check them out (or see the earlier swatches), you can find all the Curls 3 posts here.

Good Mail (once again!)

So when I told you the yarn for Curls 3 was going to be awesome, I really did mean it!  I don’t think I’ve ever assembled quite such a colorful bunch, but I’m totally loving it!

Here we’ve got Tibetan Dream by Bijou Spun in Lilac Ombre (this is the yarn I showed you when we talked about how to get the kinks out of caked yarn…take a look at this and compare it to the pictures in that post to see what a difference it makes).

And this is Silky Victoraia by Blue Moon Fiber Arts in Sugar Plum Fairy Dust.  You can always trust Tina to nudge me ever further out of my color comfort zone (and to make me very happy about it along the way)!

If you want to check back in on all the Curls 3 yarns to date, you can find them over here, and we can take turns seeing who is more surprised to see me working with all these bright shiny colors!

Armored

I told you there would be some lacy business coming up, and you know I’m not the type to lead you astray (temptation, yes; astray, no)!

armor

I suppose the pattern on this one may be a tiny bit too small scale to truly scratch the lace itch, but the result totally feels lacy to me.  Elle, sample knitter extraordinaire, said it reminds her of chain mail, which I totally get.  I sort of love the idea of a little wisp of knitting (and this is a silk/yak blend by Bijou Basin…wispy is exactly the word for it) as armor against the world.  I’m pretty sure that’s one of knitting’s superpowers!

Unwrapped

Now that the books with goody bags have found their way to their new homes, I wanted to do a little post to show everyone what was in there (seriously, I’ve been getting questions from folks asking).  If you’re one of the folks who is waiting to open your package for some reason and doesn’t want the surprise spoiled, you should run away now!

goody 1Now, my natural inclination was to fill these things with a bit of actual glitter.  But because that would have led to swearing and cursing of my name (not to mention vacuuming…and who needs more of that), I restrained myself to just using glitter tape.  That seemed much more civilized.

goody 2Once you fought your way past that, you could start to get a sense of what might be in there.  (Last chance for you folks who want the surprise to skedaddle.)

goody 3Inside you’ll find lots of handy things to make your knitting more fun.

Starting on the left there is an adorable tape measure from Spud & Chloë.  If you’re anything like me, your tape measures are always going missing (I assume your tape measures and my tape measures are all off at a swanky party together without us).  This one so cute it should be easier to hang on to!

Next up we’ve got Allure fiber wash from Bijou Basin Ranch.  Everything Bijou does is amazing (I just may have some more of their yarn on its way to me for a new project), and I was so excited to hear they’d launched a fiber wash.  I’ve washed several of my own projects in this, and I love it.

Then we’ve got a super handy needle gauge from Knitter’s Pride.  This is another one of those things that non-knitters just don’t understand how we could need so many of, while knitters know you always need about two more than you currently have.  I love how portable this one is and plan to tuck it in my travel knitting bag (because despite the best intentions, I totally cannot tell a 1.5 from a 2, and that leads to all sorts of headaches).

And finally, a wee baggy of my very favorite stitch markers.  I find them super useful (light weight, removable, don’t snag, fit anything up to about a size 9 needle).  I tucked about two dozen in each baggy, but if you’re the sort who needs a lot of stitch markers, you can find them in bulk (around 300 of them for under ten bucks) over here.

They’re all things that have a happy home in my knitting tool kit, and I hope they’ll be useful in yours!  Many thanks to the fine folks at Spud & Chloë, Bijou Basin Ranch, and Knitter’s Pride for donating these goodies.  And tremendous thanks to all of you who were lined up to get them when the sale opened (crashing the server has now moved from being a source of panic to being a source of tremendous amusement).  I’ll have to see what sort of fun I can put together for next time!

A Piece of Scrap Yarn

You know that line in a lot of my mitt patterns? The one that says ‘set thumb stitches aside on a spare needle or piece of scrap yarn?’  Yeah, I’d really sort of suggest you take the piece of spare yarn option.  I know that means you have to dig out a bit of extra yarn (hint, don’t use the yarn you’re knitting with, use a nice thick one of a different color) and a needle, and sometimes that’s too much of a pain, but if you can, it’s the best choice.

 

Why?  Two reasons.  First, when you try on the mitt, the bit of spare yarn will curve and bend around your hand (your hand being played here by the lovely Rosamund).  Second, when you start working over just the hand stitches again, the scrap yarn will let the fabric on either side of the thumb stitches smush up closer to each other than a stiff, straight spare needle will.  That will help you have a tidier transition to the rest of the hand (which in turn makes it easier to pick up extra thumb stitches later).  It’s totally the better option!

This post brought to you my my feeling that, if I was going to bother finding a darning needle and doing it right, I might as well tell you guys about it too.

 

Educational

Let’s talk yarn.  The yarn I’m using on the current mitts is Bijou Basin Tibetan Dream Sock Yarn.  It’s 85% yak down, 15% nylon, and working with it has been a bit of a learning experience.  Now, let’s get this part in right up front.  The reason it took me a little while to get comfortable with this yarn is that it is made from a fiber I’ve not used before.  It’s not that there’s anything wrong with the yarn, it’s that it was new to me and I didn’t know how it would behave. My ignorance is not the yarn’s fault, ok?

The first thing I noticed when I got my hands on the skein was that it was soft.  I mean really soft.  This makes sense, as my handy dandy Fleece & Fiber Sourcebook tells me that yak down has a diameter of between 14 and 22 microns (which, especially at the lower end of that range, makes for a very soft yarn indeed).  It also felt just the tiniest bit fuzzy.  You’ll pardon me if I show my age here, but I believe a few of you are also children of the 80s.  Did any of you have sticker albums?  Do you remember the highly prized flocked stickers?  (Please tell me I’m not alone here.)  It sort of reminded me of a much more luxurious version of those.

I was eager to get the yarn on my needles, so I sat down to wind it.  This is where I hit my first snag.  The yarn is surprisingly delicate.  So much so that the tension of winding snapped the yarn.  I’ve wound hundreds of balls of yarn, and I’ve never had this happen, even with much finer yarns.  I took a bit of yarn to play with, and sure enough, it takes very little force to pull it apart.  You know how if you’re going to pop a strand of yarn, you’ll usually wind it around both index fingers and tug?  Well with this, I can just pinch the strand between my thumb and index finger and give the gentlest of tugs, and it comes right apart.

This wasn’t a big deal while winding, it just meant I needed to use a soft touch.  It became more of a problem when I knit up my swatches.  I’m a fairly loose knitter, but I found myself having to make a very conscious effort to relax and make big gentle movements with the yarn.  If I put any force at all on it, it would break while I knit.  Once I relaxed into the tension the yarn wanted though, it was actually rather soothing, much like knitting with pencil roving.  The yarn worked up beautifully.  The fabric was smooth and the stitches even.  That fuzziness that I mentioned above meant the stitches were very grippy.  They snuggled up right next to each other and made a lovely substantial fabric.

When I blocked my swatch, the fabric relaxed dramatically.  I don’t have before and after pictures of my swatches, but I do have pre- and post-blocking pictures of the mitts I’m working on now.  The one on the left was soaked and patted flat to dry.  It was not blocked vigorously or put under any tension while it dried.  Look how much bigger it is than its unblocked companion (to be fair, the one on the needles still needs two more cable twists before it’s done, so a bit of the height difference is from that, but the majority of it is from the change in the fabric).

Here’s a similar view of the two mitts on hand forms.  The hand forms are slightly different sizes, but you can still see the dramatic difference in how the cables look.

The fabric after blocking was slinky and drapey.  It bloomed beautifully and was, if possible, even softer than when it started.  However, once it was blocked, it lost some of the spring it had before.  It seems yak doesn’t have nearly as much memory or bounce as wool does.  Again, this isn’t a bad thing.  Plenty of wonderful fibers don’t have any bounce at all.  It’s just important to know what you’re dealing with as you go about using the yarn.

This particular yarn would make a wonderful shawl (and at a generous 440 yards per skein, you could make a substantial one) or cowl.  It would be an absolutely perfect choice for a slouchy hat (you’d be able to get a light weight fabric that draped beautifully and was still tremendously warm).  It even works well for something like this mitt, where you want soft and warm, but you don’t have to worry too much about it stretching around bendy bits and springing back to grip (on the thumb, where you do need a bit of that, the ribbing steps in and helps out).

The only thing I’d be somewhat hesitant to use it for is socks.  That bounce or memory is vital to socks.  Clara Parks put it succinctly in The Knitter’s Book of Socks when she cautioned that “‘elasticity’ or the ability for a fiber to return to its original length after being stretched…is the first cardinal requirement of all socks.”  Now, the nylon does provide some elasticity.  And with the right stitch pattern (a nice deep rib would be helpful) and a the right shape (think ankle socks, not knee socks) it could totally be done.  But you’d be working somewhat at odds with the yarn’s inherent personality.  I think you’d have more fun, and make better use of the yarn, if you used it somewhere other than under your feet!

I hope this is helpful to some of you.  Again, I want to emphasize that I’ve very much enjoyed getting to know this yarn, that I’m very happy with the project I’m making out of it, and that I will certainly reach for it again.  But it does take a bit of getting used to, and it doesn’t behave like wool.  If you keep that in mind, you’ll have a marvelous time with it too.

Now With Less Drama

Hi pinterest folks, if you’re looking for this pattern, it’s called Brigand and it’s available in Ne’er-Do-Well Knits on ravelry!

Yesterday’s escapades didn’t really show off the work to its best advantage.  The picture of Millie–lost over the fence, pitched into the snow–has its charms, but it doesn’t do much for the knitting.  So, just for clarity, I’ll offer here a somewhat more detailed look at the stitches.

You’ll note that Millie is nowhere near the fence.  You may also notice that this is post-rinse (not quite a full on proper blocking, but just a bit of a rinse and dry to get off the leaf chunks) for the portion below the thumb opening (you can see the difference between pre and post rinse if you look at the top two twists of that middle column).

This is a ridiculously simple little mitt (though I am finding myself rather taken with how the thumb gusset fits), but it’s what the yarn seemed to want.  This yarn took a bit of getting used to, but now that we’ve become accustomed to each other, I’m very much enjoying it.  It’s Bijou Basin Tibetan Dream Sock Yarn in the color Sky, and I need to write a bit more about working with it some time soon, but I want to read a bit more about yak first.

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Never a Good Sign

If I show you a bit of knitting, and it doesn’t have needles in it, you can pretty safely guess that knitting is about to go on to its greater reward.  This is no exception.

This yarn (Bijou Basin Tibetan Dream Sock Yarn) is trying to teach me some things.  I’ve not quite mastered what it has to show me, so we’re still working through our lessons.  I have a sneaking suspicion it will be worth it in the end though, and learning is good for you, right?