Tuesday, July 2, 2013

Red and Black Stranded Sweater Pattern

I recently finished this sweater for my husband. He had seen a photo in an old Keito Dama magazine of a similar Kazekobo design and asked me to make it for him. I said sure, then I started looking more carefully at the pattern. It called for an aran weight yarn. Such a heavy yarn in a stranded sweater would make a really warm sweater for outerwear, but my husband runs hot and likes to wear his sweaters indoors. I didn't think he would wear it. It was also in a smaller size than he could wear, so I knew I would have to rechart it for him. As it turned out, the design is similar, but not the same. I couldn't make a direct translation to a gauge suitable for fingering weight yarn, so I settled for charting a design inspired by the original. I thought I'd make it available here. 

The sweater has set-in sleeves that are knitted in one piece with the body of the sweater, so it's made almost entirely in the round and requires very minimal sewing to finish. Only a short section at the top of each sleeve cap needs to be sewn into the armholes.

Here you go:


Saturday, June 22, 2013

Knitting in Russian

I just completed my first Russian knitting pattern. It came from Zhurnal Mod (Журнал МОД) № 558.

This magazine usually has lots of beautiful things, mostly crocheted and mostly either Irish crochet or Bruges crochet. In my opinion, the Russians and Ukrainians do the most beautiful and creative crochet work of anyone. Really stunning stuff. I've bought a few of these and a few of another Ukrainian magazine, Duplet (Дуплет) from ebay sellers. They cost a little more than  domestic knitting/crochet magazines, but they're not as expensive as most of the Japanese pattern books and magazines I buy. Every Duplet is a treasury of crochet stitch patterns, as well as a collection of garment patterns. Generally, they love to do "variations on a theme." Their "special issues" are larger and more expensive, but if you crochet, they're really worth the money.  The crochet patterns are all charted, so even though I don't speak Russian or Ukrainian, I can follow the patterns. One thing to be aware of, though, is that the patterns are minimal. They give you the stitch patterns, but you're expected to figure out how to put them together and what the shaping needs to be. For Bruges or Irish crochet, this is perfectly reasonable. The motifs are laid out on a cloth pattern and joined with ground stitches. If you can draft patterns, that's one way to get the right shapes, but using a sewing pattern is another more accessible method.

The knitting patterns are not so easy to follow either, especially if you don't speak the language. The real problem isn't the language barrier though. The written instructions are extremely terse. Much like Japanese patterns, they give you the yarn requirements, gauge, and needle sizes, but very little more. The actual "pattern" is generally a chart to show the stitch pattern and a schematic with measurements. You get to figure out the necessary increases and decreases to make the shapes. They're definitely not for the faint of heart or for the person who wants to do some mindless knitting. That approach tends to make for a lot of knitters who are extremely creative and quick to reverse engineer things they see, but for which no pattern is available.  

Nevertheless, I'm intrigued enough by many of these patterns to step in where angels fear to tread, as the saying goes. I'm nothing if not an "adventurous" knitter. I always figure that I'm going to be working on making something virtually every day of my life. If I happen to be re-making something that didn't work out the first time, so be it. I think that attitude makes me confused about whether I'm a process or a product knitter. I definitely want the product, but if the path to it happens to be a lot of stops and restarts, that's okay with me too.

I've had my eye on the pattern I made for quite some time. I love this stitch pattern. Once I got started on swatching it, I realized the chart wasn't quite right. There were a couple of rows that couldn't be knitted because the stitch counts were wrong. I figured out how to fix that though. As it turned out, once I'd done my swatching, making the top was really easy. I didn't have to rip anything out at all.

Here's the corrected chart, using Japanese stitch symbols (Note that blank squares are "no-stitch" squares, that is, they exist only to make the chart rectangular, but there's nothing to knit there).

The main challenge was blocking. This stitch pattern has different stitch counts on different rows. That's not uncommon, but the variation in this one is really large. The shortest rows have 21 stitches per repeat and the longest have 47. The sweater has six repeats, so over the entire circumference, that's 126 stitches on the shortest rows and 282 stitches on the longest rows, a difference of 156 stitches! At 8 stitches per inch, that'a pre-blocked difference of 19 1/2 inches. I threaded blocking wires along the outer edges of the lace panels and used lots of blocking pins and a pretty good amount of brute force. The lace also needs to be stretched vigorously in the lengthwise direction as it has some areas where it tends to pucker. I'm glad I made it with a strong mercerized cotton. Something delicate wouldn't be appropriate at all.

In the end, I'm really happy with the result. I'm not sure I'd want to get caught in a downpour while wearing it, for fear the blocking would disappear, but other than that, I think it turned out to be quite nice.

You can find out more about my process on my Ravelry project page here.

And while you're over there, take a look at what the phenomenally talented tatty152 did with this motif. But please, don't stop there. Look at her other projects if you want to be blown away with wonder and admiration.


Monday, March 11, 2013

Little things

Little things make me happy

Sometimes, something small and insignificant brings me more joy than an objective judgment could ever justify. For instance, some time ago, I ordered some yarn from Knit Picks and I was just a little short of spending enough to get free shipping. I went off to look at tools to see if I could find something small and cheap to make up the difference. You might have done the same, right? I ended up adding a little double-ended crochet hook on a key chain. I don't know why, but when I got the order, that little key chain made me stupidly happy. There's really no way for me to explain why; my rational self doesn't understand it at all. I keep it in my pocket every day, along with my tiny Victorinox pen knife. I can put my hand in my pocket any time and get a little psychological lift even if I seldom actually use it. I guess that is using it in a way, especially if I'm having a bad day at work.

Recently, I made something that makes me happy in the same silly way. First, let me tell you how it came about, because the back story is always important. Or not. Our family room sofa is where I almost always knit or crochet. My seat is nearest the wall where I have good light. I can sit through any number of football games and action movies there, as long as I have something to occupy my hands. It makes for good familial relations. I can appear to be there, sharing some (non?) quality time with my husband, while in fact, I'm off in yarntopia. That sofa is now about 18 years old. We bought it when we got our first house. It's a sleeper sofa, and it allowed us to accommodate guests more or less comfortably (probably less, although I always added a foam pad to make it a little more bearable). I never liked the upholstery very well, but at least we could afford the sofa and it wasn't too horrible to look at. Besides, I figured the upholstery wouldn't last forever and I could eventually replace it.

I was right for once; the upholstery didn't last forever. In December, I took an objective look at it (always a mistake) and realized how completely disgusting it had become. I'm not sure I would have accepted it for free in my most poverty-stricken student days. We had worn holes in the cushions and it was dingy and stained. So, I took a break from work and recovered it in January. I got the fabric from Joann for 60% off. That helped, because after looking and looking for upholstery fabric from every store in town and a bunch more places online, I really didn't find anything I loved. It's hard to spend $40 or $50 a yard for fabric you just tolerate. Part of the problem was that it seems almost all home decor fabric has a definite right-side-up and upside-down. That would be okay, except that the up and down directions run the length of the fabric and the fabric isn't wide enough to upholster a sofa. That means the top of the design can't be at the top of the sofa unless you have a seam down the middle. Otherwise, you put your design sideways and in most cases, it definitely looks sideways. I finally settled on something and did the work. Yes, the design is running sideways, but at least it's subtle. Here's a picture of the end result:

It's actually black, but I had to overexpose a little to show the detail. You can imagine me over on the right looking glamorous and beautiful, with a piece of amazing knitting or crocheting in my hands. I don't actually look glamorous and beautiful and the work in my hands may not be very amazing, but please imagine me like that anyway.

When I work there, I seem to always end up with a little collection of notions, yarn scraps, tapestry needles, etc. on the arm rest. They used to always fall down between the arm and the end of the cushion. Because it's a sleeper sofa, that actually meant they would fall through to the floor. I'd have to get my husband and myself up off the sofa, remove the seat cushions and pull the bed part-way out to retrieve whatever I lost. You might guess that this was not always quite what my husband most wanted to do, especially during an exciting football game (well, exciting to him anyway). I solved that problem when I did the reupholstery. I added a piece of fabric that attaches to the sofa with velcro so I can remove it if/when we ever use this thing as a sleeper again. It catches everything. I know, because I dropped a lot of things down the side of the cushion to test it. How many things? You don't want to know. Just realize that it made me very happy to be able to fish them back out without dismantling the sofa. Best of all, no more fossilized snack crumbs on the floor on my husband's side either. I didn't know he was "saving" those until I pulled the couch out to take off the old upholstery. I hope he wasn't planning on using those as emergency rations, because they're gone now.  Here's what I did:

Once I got the sofa upholstered, I realized that I really needed to do something better with those bits and pieces I always have on the armrest. The new upholstery is a sort of velvety stuff and I knew the fibers I pull out when I spit splice would be difficult to remove without hauling out the vacuum cleaner. I also didn't want to be sticking big tapestry needles into my "new" sofa. I decided I wanted a little tray that could sit there. You've probably seen those armrest organizers advertised somewhere (as seen on TV or Harriet Carter maybe). They have a couple of pockets that hang down on either side of the armrest and sometimes have a flat tray on top. I didn't want pockets and I really didn't find anything I liked, so I decided to make one that would be just right.
I cut the pieces for the tray out of a corrugated cardboard box and glued them together. The bottom is curved to match the curvature of the armrest. Once I made the tray, I covered the outside with cotton batting and "upholstered" it with scrap cloth from some chair cushions I had recovered earlier. I put three strips of velcro on the bottom (what would modern life be like without velcro and duct tape??).
Then I hemmed a flat piece of fabric to hang over the armrest and put matching strips of velcro on it so I could attach the tray to the fabric. To keep it from sliding around, I bought some coin-shaped stone beads on sale and attached them along the bottom edges with a length of chain. I wanted some really heavy beads, and those do the trick. Plus they look sort of decorative. I found some large (and also heavy) bicone beads to put at the corners.
Then I made the dividers out of tag board. It's the dividers that make me so happy, really. One of them has a pincushion in it, where I can stick my tapestry needles. The part that I love though, is that each little compartment has a curved bottom. If you looked at a cross section from the side, they're like this:
That may not seem very important, but it does a wonderful thing. Instead of having tiny stitch markers or fine crochet hooks getting caught in the corners, they come right out. I don't have to fish for them at all. Once I had it all put together, I spent a really shameful amount of time dropping little things in and sliding them back out, just because it made me so happy. I'm sure I need to get a life, but in the meantime, little things like this make life worth living. I discovered a bonus after I started using it. I can tuck a circular needle or two under the tray to keep them handy. They don't fall on the floor between the end table and the sofa now. Here are a couple more pictures of my tray.

Sunday, March 10, 2013

Pattern for Manfredovna's "3 Million Ravelers" Banner

A chart for Manfredovna's "3 Million Ravelers" banner

Ravelry's Manfredovna designed a darling sheepy three-color banner to celebrate the three millionth member of Ravelry. Ravelry hit that impressive milestone on March 8th, 2013. Fellow Ravelry member Perlesque noticed right away what a perfect scarf the design would make. I was happy to chart it and Manfredovna has graciously given me permission to make the charts available here. The charts provide two methods for knitting a scarf: lengthwise or end-to-end. Both are included in the PDF file.