Sunday, April 29, 2012

Unwound Part II

The story of a forlorn mess of yarn and a happy ending.
While on vacation* 4 or 5 years ago  in  North Myrtle Beach , South Carolina we took a drive to Pawleys Island.   Despite the groaning from my boys in the backseat I naturally had an ulterior motive - a yarn store!    Island Knits is a lovely store, and I was immediately smitten by the gorgeous Dream in Color Baby wool. I purchased all of the yarn they had in the colorway "Beach Fog" and it was just enough for my project. The blue and aqua hand dyed colors were the perfect reminder of a great family vacation at a beautiful shore. The shawl- Miriam L. Felton’s Icarus was one of my first forays into the world of lace knitting.  
©Interweave Knits

 It took many false starts and a ridiculous amount of ripping and re-knitting.  But, I persevered and finished much of the easily memorized pattern with in a relatively short period of time. (Sometimes I think it is good to try a new technique  while on vacation because I don’t usually have anything other projects with me, so I force myself  to work with what I have.) Icarus is a great beginner lace pattern because it is reasonably simple and the construction becomes apparent within a short period of time. By the time I was back at home, I only had a little left to knit.
Ball "Collapse"
That was when I experienced my first incident of “ball collapse”. I had a snarled mess of yarn and only a few edging rows left. **
 I called around to all of the local stores and internet stores I knew, and none of them carried the yarn.  Don’t you hate that heart sinking feeling?  I then went to my local yarn store to see what I could do.  Sharon, the owner of CreativeKnitworks calmed me with great news.  Apparently there is a way that shop owners can fulfill orders from each others inventory.  Within days, and for a very reasonable cost, the yarn was on the way to me. 
Now, this was a hand dyed yarn, and I knew the dye lots were not the same, but I was happy to take anything I could get. 
You may not be able to tell that there are a variety of colors in this yarn.
 It didn't photograph very clearly.
The yarn ranges from blue to soft gold to violet and aqua.  Lovely.
If you look at my shawl, you will see that the edging is absolutely not the same color as the body of the shawl.  
 At first, this bothered me because, of course, a mismatched edge was not part of my original plan for this piece.
But, I’ve come to appreciate the contrast, and now even think it adds a little life to the shawl.

Now if I could only go somewhere important enough to show it off!

*Please don’t think that I travel all over, buying awesome lace yarn from beautiful destinations and whipping up lovely shawls regularly.  I wish. ; )
** I tried for hours to no avail to unsnarl the yarn, but it was getting frayed and felted and I finally threw in the towel.

Valuable lessons learned:
 Never pull laceweight yarn from the center of a skein.
 Your mother/ grandmother/ yarn store owner/ Elizabeth Zimmerman was right- always make sure you have purchased enough yarn in the same dye lot…
(more on that later!)

Sunday, April 22, 2012


A ball winder and umbrella swift have been high on my wish list for many years.  Is there anything more inspiring than seeing perfect little yarn “cakes” lined up ready to become something wonderful?
So beautifully wound! 
 I love the way yarn streams smoothly from a center pull skein, and that the skein does not roll around the way a ball of yarn does. Stranded knitting is also easier because the skeins don’t tangle as much.
When I purchased the lace weight Jaggerspun Zephyr  that I am using for my Queen Silvia’s wrap I was captivated by the perfectly put up skeins.  I knew the white yarn would stay cleaner because there was no risk of it rolling around.  I also find that intricate patterns are easier to work with a center pull skein, because the yarn comes out so evenly.
Ready to pull center thread...

Delighted with my purchase, I quickly went to Ravelry to read all about my new yarn. ( Do you do that? I learn so much...)
     Good thing I did.  Ravelry is such a font of information.  I stumbled onto a thread which was discussing something I now call the “ball collapse” syndrome.  A center pull skein in very fine yarn unwinds well at the beginning but can deflate and tangle once the center yarn is used up. That sparked the memory  from a few years ago of another fragile merino lace weight yarn  that became so hopelessly tangled that I finally had to snip the yarn and purchase more. The merino fibers literally stuck together, and could not be  separated with out damaging the threads.  I did not have the time or patience to use any tried and true separating methods!
You would think  that I should have remembered,
especially because I clearly kept this as a warning!

   Needless to say, this time I tucked the center end of yarn back in the middle and started working this shawl with the yarn end from the outside of the skein.  I keep it in a Ziploc bag so it is protected as it rolls around. It is working out pretty well.  But, I have to admit, every time the yarn tightens up a little bit as I am working one of the countless nupps (bobbles)in the pattern and I have to unwind the ball to keep the yarn slack, I have to restrain myself from giving into the temptation of  using the yarn from the center of the skein.
Have you ever had a pull skein of fine yarn collapse?

Thursday, April 12, 2012

Plan B

I always have a back up project ready for the times when I am in between designs and gift knitting, or unable  to give an intricate project my full attention.

Embroidered bag and unblocked lace
 I try to select a pattern that is challenging enough to capture my interest, yet rhythmic enough to not require deep concentration.  It needs to be portable, so that it complements my peripatetic lifestyle.   I always enjoy selecting the bag that will house this project, because it will travel with me everywhere, and I am delighted by bags that are the ideal mix of form and function. 
Cotton lawn lining

 My current  back up project is the lovely Queen Silvia Shawl by Nancy Bush.  I prefer to call it a wrap, because of its rectangular shape.  I love to work on lace shawls and have knit a number of them, but I have realized that I truly never wear them.  
Queen Silvia Shawl    Interweave Press 2008

I find the lure of hand dyed yarns irresistible, and as Elizabeth Zimmermann famously put forth in A Knitters Almanac, a shawl is perfect vacation knitting.  Fetching triangular shawls do not seem to fit into my daily wardrobe so I chose this pattern based on its shape and simplicity. I am knitting this wrap in a neutral creamy white that I can foresee wearing over formal wear year round  , or as a scarf with my dress coat in the winter.  I purchased the yarn, Jaggerspun  Zephyr on a scenic New England vacation from the Elegant Ewe in Concord, NH.  I had the foresight to bring my copy of Nancy Bush’s Knitted Lace of Estonia book with me, as well as my compact selection of 24” inch circular Addi Turbos needles.  I started the wrap in August, and have it ready to bring with me to every destination, from  a lunch break to basketball practices to weekend trips.  I work on it sporadically, and is often the case with my “travel knitting” I often knit happily while conversing, only to have to rip some of it out when I go home. It is a pleasure to work leisurely, with no deadline in sight, and I am enjoying this pattern tremendously.  The bag is a tote I designed, sewed and embroidered years ago.  It was packed away for ages, and when I recently came across it, I realized that it was the perfect size (7.75 x 9 inches) to tuck in my pocketbook. I have my project and yarn in a Ziploc bag for protection, and carry a crochet hook and a laminated copy I have made of the pattern. I also carry Post It notes to highlight the row I am working on. Although I have not made much progress, I always look forward to completing a row or two.
Do you have a Plan B project?

Thursday, April 5, 2012

My Constant Companion

Mr. Bennet:  "You mistake me, my dear. I have the utmost respect for your nerves. They've been my constant companion these twenty years.." *

    Absolutely, my husband would concur.  However, he would replace nerves (I think!) with the word knitting. As my knitting  has been my constant companion, so by default has it been my husband's, and my sons'.   Every car trip, no matter how small, begins with me asking where someone  has placed my knitting bag.  By now, they are all resigned to the fact that my knitting bag has a permanent place of honor at the foot of the front seat passenger, regardless of who that might be.

    Packing my knitting bag is a pleasurable task that is an integral part of my daily ritual.  Will it be a quick trip (small bag, no book, travel knitting) or an extended vacation ( large bag, 2 projects, laptop and books, and needle assortment)?  Might I have a break at work and be able to squeeze in a few rows (makeup bag, folded pattern, travel project and crochet hook) or a child's dentist appointment (makeup bag, folded pattern, travel project, crochet hook and design notebook)?
    Each trip requires planning and thought.  Hot weather- cotton, or washable fine wool.  City vacations- simple cables, as there is always time, but rarely good light. Sporting events- rhythmic mindless patterns. And, there must, of course, be room in the bag for any knitting treasures I may be fortunate enough to unearth in the delightful new stores I discover along the way.  My favorite use for the GPS, and  the iPhone is scouting out both a great restaurant and a  great needlework/yarn shop immediately.  I have perfected the art of packing my knitting for travel.  
Wouldn't this be a marvelous time for a knitting trip?

Bergere de France
Hotel de Crillon, Paris
Laduree, Paris
Louvre, Paris
Chanel, Paris
* Pride and Prejudice by Jane Austen

Monday, April 2, 2012

My Latest Design

The Spring/Summer 2012 issue of Vogue Knitting is available in stores and online.  I love summer knits, and especially enjoy making and wearing tank tops.  They are so quick to finish and I wear them all year round, on their own or under a jacket.  My Lace Insert Tank, garment # 21 is part of  VK's  beautifully photographed  "A Midsummer Knit's Dream" story.  It was a surprisingly quick knit, partially because the back is plain stockinette, and also because the sweater is worked at a comfortable 21sts and 28 rows to 4"/10cm. gauge.  
Lace Insert Tank

 If you visit the Vogue Knitting site, you can preview this sweater  in the VK360 window.  VK 360 is an absolutely amazing  video feature that shows the garments on live models and highlights every  possible detail.  The Lace Insert Tank looks quite different on the VK 360, as the model is wearing a solid color camisole under the sweater.  

Although the lace inset may look somewhat daunting, I can assure you that it is simple enough if you break it down into "digestible" pieces.  I try to stack the odds in my favor before making any sweater. I always enlarge any graph I am working on, and make a few portable copies that I can mark on with a pencil or highlighter.  Highlighter tape is especially wonderful for keeping track of rows.   Post-its work well too.   I also use stitch markers-I prefer the rubbery bendable type- to separate pattern repeats while I knit.  I also find that knitting the pattern while I am making my gauge swatch helps me understand a graph better.  It always takes a little bit of practice for me before the pattern feels logical.  But, the finished lace project always makes all of that practice worthwhile.
If you like my latest project, you can view it (or favorite it, or queue it!) on Ravelry.
I love to see pictures of both works in progress and finished objects. Summer will be here before we know it, and a simple tank is a great and versatile piece.