Monday, January 29, 2007

Natural dyeing and 'secret projects'

Although I was reasonably pleased with my most recent natural dyeing experiment, I was left with unresolved questions about why the cochineal dye didn't work. So I tried again under more controlled conditions. I still can't quite predict the colors I'm going to get, so it still feels like alchemy, but this time felt like a success.
The madder gave an unbelievable carrot-juice hue. And the cochineal yielded deep raspberry colors on the unmordanted wool, a soft lavender on an unmordanted silk/wool blend, and a crazy barbie pink on a mordanted wool several days later (pictures of that another time).

I quickly put the cochineal-dyed wool to use in a hat with staghorn cables. It might be appropriate to call this a 'secret project,' but I think instead I'll just say that I'm using the wool in a pattern that I hope to be published in a month or so.
I've been thinking recently, you see, about blogging about 'secret projects' (which I usually interpret, except during the holidays, as indicating a to-be-published pattern). The first time I got to say that, it was somehow pleasantly ego-boosting. But after seeing it a lot recently, I've come to think that it's too close to the self-important "I have a secret and won't tell you!!" proclamations that you hear from kids. I appreciate that people talk about 'secret projects' for reasons that have nothing to do with bragging, like explaining why there hasn't been much to blog about lately. And anyways, a bit of showing off is part of the nature and pleasure of knitting blogs. But somehow the term 'secret project' seems designed to put distance between a blogger and a reader, rather than connecting them. It seems like there are other ways to talk about these projects - for example, saying "a pattern I'm trying to get published" or "my cabled hat" instead of "a secret project" - that are informative and personable enough to draw people in, but still vague enough to make the final project a surprise.

I'm not trying to criticize anyone. I'm just spinning out some thoughts about this to provoke thought and conversation...

Thursday, January 25, 2007

tree of life

I've been rather quiet lately because I've been working on secret projects (shhh....), but now that this has been gifted, it's fair to post.
This is a baby blanket and hat with a leaf motif that I knit out of organic cotton. The yarn is marvelous. It's color grown, which means that the cotton itself grows in this soft, sage green. And it's amazingly silky and soft.

Yarn: Blue Sky Alpacas Organic Cotton, "sage," 2 balls
Needles: Size 9 circular and dps, with H crochet hook for the blanket edging
Pattern: my own! very proud.

As you can see in the progress shot, below, the embossed leaf pattern leaves quite a sharp curve at the bottom. But I evened that out by using triple crochets for that section of the border.
There's a whole saga behind this blanket, since I'd initially started a terribly complicated intarsia blanket instead. After many, many hours of working on that blanket, though, I'd decided it looked too amateurish. It was with no small regrets that I bailed and started this leafy blanket.

It all gets back to the value of not being afraid to abandon projects that aren't going well. As one of my professors says, you have to be willing to throw things away rather than getting too invested in something to admit that it's not working out. And in the end, this leafy blanket was such a pleasure to knit, and was received with such praise, that I'm glad I took that plunge.

Friday, January 19, 2007

Cambridge Watchcap

Knit in a cozy alpaca-wool blend, this watchcap is basic enough to keep a guy satisfied. But there's just enough styling - twisted stitches, biased fabric, asymmetric ribbing - to satisfy the knitter, too, and to give the hat a unique, handknit hipness.
Yarn: 1 skein of Berocco Ultra Alpaca, color 6207 'salt and pepper'
Needles: #6 Inox metal circular, with dp's for the top
Gauge: 7 st/inch, unstretched or 4.5 st/inch, slightly stretched.
The hat is stretchy enough to fit heads from 21-23" in circumference.

Cast on 96 stitches.

Join in a circle, and knit in [K2 tbl, P1] ribbing, which is just 2x1 ribbing with twisted knit stitches (tbl = through back loop). Knit in this ribbing until piece measures 10".

Decrease for the top in 8 sections as follows:
Row 1: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, {K2 tbl, P1}3x] around (i.e. 8 times)
Row 2: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, K1 tbl, P1, {K2 tbl, P1}2x] around
Row 3: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, P1, {K2 tbl, P1}2x] around
Row 4: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, {K2 tbl, P1}2x] around
Row 5: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, K1 tbl, P1, K2 tbl, P1] around
Row 6: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, P1, K2 tbl, P1] around
Row 7: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, K2 tbl, P1] around
Row 8: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, K1 tbl, P1] around
Row 9: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl, P1] around
Row 10: [K1 tbl, K2tog tbl] around
Row 11: K2tog tbl around

Pull yarn through the remaining 8 stitches, weave in ends and enjoy.
I designed this for my sensational friend Gustavo - please check out his splendid food blog, "The Dinner Bell". We've had some cold days in Cambridge, and I trust that this hat will keep him warm!

And I was so pleased with the hat myself that I've started to make a second one for Mountain Man. Please let me know if you try the pattern too!

Monday, January 15, 2007

little knitting

First FO's of the year! Here's a bundle of small knitted items. Weirdly, there's an unintentional theme here: sister-related and red. Please excuse the drab photography.

First, while my sister was visiting, I knit her a pair of short wristlets and a flower from the Malabrigo yarn that was left over from her hat. The flower pattern was from Handknit Holidays - the "Morning Star" pattern, adapted to be done in the round on dp's. The wristlet pattern was made up on the fly - K1,P1 over 24 stitches (#7 dp's), with garter stitch over a slightly expanded number of stitches. In retrospect, I didn't need to be so conservative with their length, as I ended up with enough yarn to make them a few inches longer. The Malabrigo can go a long way, I found.

Second, my sister actually knit a hat herself!! For years I tried to force knitting on her, and she totally resisted. Now it's just tacitly understood that I'm happy to help if she wants, and -- lo and behold! -- she actually wanted to knit something! It's a beautiful, precious baby hat for her friend, made out of Debbie Bliss alpaca/silk, color 19. It has a garter stitch border with bobbles and big pom pom at the top. Our own pattern, although the design was inspired by a hat we'd seen in some catalog.

Lastly, I made a Calorimetry headband, with the leftover cashmerino from last year's cabled hat. I added some royal blue mohair here and there to make it more interesting. The pattern as written is huge, and it's still a bit big even though I downsized to size 7 needles, only cast on 90 stitches (80 would've been sufficient), and did only half as many repeats of row 5 and 7. It's soft and fun to wear but a bit...well... garish. I think I know someone who could pull it off, though. I'm sending it my sister : )

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Natural Dyes, Take II

I launched my second attempt at natural dyeing two weeks ago. I had some madder roots that I was waiting play with. Then my sister -- showing fabulous creativity and thoughtfulness -- had given me a container of dried cochineal bugs for Christmas. When she visited us in Vermont after the holidays, the timing was perfect.

This was tapas-style dyeing, with small experimental snippets rather than yarn enough for a project. We prepared 10 g mini-skeins cut from the leftovers of the last dyebaths, which enabled us to test the cochineal and madder dyebaths on yarns in the following hues: uncolored, canary yellow, golden yellow, and caramel.

It was a wildly uncontrolled, open air, over-the-campfire, time-consuming dyeing adventure. And the results? The madder yielded a light persimmon color. Paler than we wanted, and not quite as rusty-red, but quite pretty and complex. The cochineal, on the other hand, oddly gave us a dark, dull yellow, and only the scraps of yarn that tied the skeins turned the expected pink. There were so many things that could've gone wrong that I can't even begin to diagnose our problems, but it was really, really weird.

Here's a closer look: the two middle yarns show the original marigold colors, and each is flanked by samples overdyed by cochineal, on the left, and madder, on the right. The colors came out a little flat in these photos. In real life, they're much richer and more lively.

The whole enterprise feels like alchemy!!

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

2006 Knitting Review

2007 is already whipping by with alarming speed. Before it gets too deep into mid-January, I thought I'd do a brief, self-congratulatory review of my 2006 projects. I've been knitting for about eight years, but it was this year that I made an effort to cultivate greater knitting skills, and it definitely feels good to review it.

I was most proud of diving into lace knitting. I'd never previously finished a lace project, but this year I knit my wedding shawl - a 'print o' the wave' stole in ivory alpaca - as well as a flared lace smoke ring for my sister and a fuzzy mohair scarf.
Socks was another area in which I gritted my teeth and made progress. I was most pleased with a pair of Jaywalkers for my sister, and I learned more about sock construction with my blue Elizabeth Zimmerman socks.
And I finally finished a sweater! Four, actually. Granted, three were baby sweaters and one was only half a sweater, but they add up to at least a whole real sweater! Seriously, though, I made a conscious effort to experiment with different methods of sweater constuction: the froggie and truffle sweaters were done in the round from the bottom up, the cabled bookworm sweater was more traditional with separate, seamed pieces, and my purple 'banishing dark thoughts' cardigan was knit in a single piece from the top down.
My true love, as always, remains hat knitting: alpaca/silk 'Odessa', bulky burgundy ribbed, cashmerino mini-cabled, malabrigo ribbed cap, lamb's pride horseshoe lace, cashmere-merino 'Shedir', bluefaced leicester soft beret (seen folded), mohair/wool toque.
It's all wrapped up with an ipod cozy and an alpaca/silk neckwarmer for my mom.
I rarely take stock of my accomplishments, since it's more in my nature to be critical and self-deprecating (such is the lot of a graduate student). But I think that wrapping up the year in this way is a very positive practice!