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2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 5 November 30, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

Before some wiseacre brings up magnifier lamps and the like, yes I had considered them. But such things are simply crutches. Plus you can’t really lug them around. I like to have my projects on hand when I’m out and about. You never know when you might get a chance to cram some work in. As a wise muppet once said, “Do, or do not. There is no magnifier lamp.” Or something to that effect. No, I was going to have to stand or fall on my own unamplified talents. So last winter I busted out my long disused hooks and books and set to practicing the basics in earnest. I made dishrags, hot sauce bottle cozies and whatnot. This I felt was the proper path: drill, drill, drill the basics. I even put sweaters on my trees. (BTW, an excellent Chrismas present for your Happy Hooker is a set of crochet hooks from this guy: www.turn-of-the-century.com)

While browsing through one of my books for something new I came across a pattern for the basic granny square. Yes! This was Just The Thing. It wasn’t terribly hard to learn as it still just uses the standard single and double crochet stitches. It’s not really anthing fancy, but it looks like more than it is so to speak. And…dare I say it – verging on “lacy”? I felt like real progress was being made. Finally! Then I got it into my head to make a baby blanket with small granny squares. One of my neices had a baby the previous fall and it would be nice to make something for her. That took considerably longer than I expected though. In the end it came out pretty nice and I was well pleased. I even learned a new stitch for the border: the back post treble crochet.

During this time I had bought some more books that focus on these types of constructions: granny squares, rounds, triangles, hexagons, etc. I started making some of the more advanced designs. And of course, the Bavarian Crochet baby blanket. These blankets were also made with a lighter “sport-weight” yarn.

It was during the early stages of that last blanket something finally really clicked. I had been struggling a bit with it, my hook action wasn’t smooth and the yarn kept splitting (that’s where you grab just part of the yarn and it pulls apart a bit. You have to let go and grab it again – very annoying.) But other times I would have no problems at all. I found that if I just changed the angle I was poking the hook in, and loosen up the stitches just a bit everything became much, much smoother. I picked up considerable speed and accuracy too.

After that was done I already had my next project picked out: a granny square lace shawl for Mom. There is a pattern in one of my books that uses one of the more complicated patterns. You make 20 of them and sew them together, then crochet a border around the outside fringe. And I found a site that sells sport-weight 100% cashmere yarn. I needed to find out what color she wanted so it’s not going to be a surprise. She picked out a really gorgeous red yarn. <Scroll down to the bottom and look for “Seeing Red”. Nice eh? It’s on back-order so I’ve been practicing the pattern with acrylic so I’ll have it down. I showed my boss what I was going to be making and he became very interested.

To be continued…

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2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 4 November 29, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

Time passes. I’d buried my detestable enemy deep in the yarn pile, but I could not bury my failure. It gnaws at me. But…there is another, darker passage to dare: Crochet. Understand that crochet is absolutely the “red-headed step-child” in the yarncraft community. Some would say it is the evil, bearded Mr. Spock universe of fabric arts.  It’s the Sauron / Saruman tag-team of the World Wrestling Federa — sorry, wandered off onto wrong tracks there. Anyway, it’s a very divided situation. In the public eye everything made with yarn is “knitting”. It’s the default, generic term and it’s an annoyance. I had some prior familiarity with crochet as I’d fiddled with it before but never really did much with it. Also my great grandma did crochet and when I was a kid she would send me things she made from time to time –  small stuffed animals, slippers and whatnot. For the Parental Units she made a gorgeous lace bedspread as a wedding present many years before. So I had some idea about what it was capable of.

Knitting and crochet can be very similar in some respects, but are very different their basic structures. It’s hard to explain to someone who doesn’t know the difference but knitting is more row-based, crochet more stitch-based. if you’re wearing a typical t-shirt the fabric is knitted with alternating knit and purl stitches with very small threads by a machine. It has a nice, stretchy quality that is the hallmark of knitted wear. If the cloth isn’t knitted, then it’s almost certainly woven, again by machines. While crochet can make a fabric, it isn’t commercially mass-produced by machine as far as I know. crochet makes a more textured, somewhat coarser fabric because it’s basically a series of chained knots.

The advantage knitting has is that it’s easily regimented by rows. Machines can be programmed to do fantastic things with the knit process. Crochet, not so much it seems. The odd, closed stitch by stitch crochet method doesn’t seem to lend itself so well to such manipulation. However, because of that particular structure it does lend itself to more free-form techniques, like lace.

And so I turn my back on knitting and embrace the Dark Side of the Yarn Force.

…To Be Continued

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 3 November 29, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1 here

So, how thin is it? This thin:

I know yarn. Yarn is a friend of mine. You, sir, are no yarn.

Yeah. It’s half the thickness of the sock yarn I had used before and I already had problems with that. Nevertheless I put it on my smallest needles and gave it the ol’ college try. No go. I could barely cast on correctly much less work with this thread. Aside from hardly even being able to see the damn thing, it had a nasty habit of sticking to itself. Yes, there is the trick of using double yarn to make a thicker strand to work with, but this would cut my yardage in half. 400 yards sounds like a lot, but it really isn’t. Particularly when dealing with thread. Even doubled up it’s still next to nothing. I told Mom my skills were simply not up to the challenge of qiviut just yet. I put it aside and brooded.

I worked on projects here and there, tried other thin yarns to kind of “work up” to the Real Deal. The problem still was even if I could knit it like regular yarn, there still wasn’t really enough of it to make anything substantial. I could buy more but I was already 400 bucks into this mess and I was reluctant to throw more money at it. Then I thought “well, since this is lace weight yarn, why not make something light and lacy?” Perfect! So I go looking up lace shawls and the like. Oh man there are some drop dead gorgeous designs out there. I figure I can practice with not-quite lace weight yarns, learn the techniques and pattern and then try the qiviut. I’m…not great at reading abbreviated knitting instructions but I can usually follow along if I go very slowly. I looked at lace knitting pattern instructions. I might as well have been trying to read Sanskrit. Some patterns helpfully provide a visual diagram of the pattern. Blue prints to building a B2 Stealth Bomber would have made better sense to me. This was clearly beyond my now obviously very feeble skills. It would take years of dedicated study to get to the required level. Then it was that I finally understood: I had a Nemesis. Nay, an ARCH-nemesis!

Actually 10% muskox hair, 90% evil.

Oh yeah, it has another spelling with a “k” at the end instead of a “t”. Never trust anything that has more than one spelling. This…nasty thread had defeated me at every turn. My failures preyed on my mind. I’m not used to being so completely thwarted like this. Qiviut(k) was now the White Whale to my Ahab. It was the KHAAAAAAN! to my Kirk! The Balrog of Morgoth to my Gandalf! The…well you get the picture. But all the same I was greatly disheartened. I actually started to lose interest in knitting, frankly. I tried some other patterns, more advanced techniques. Mom loved one of the scarves in the store they keep as a pattern example of entrelac. They taught a class on how to do it and I took it. I was quickly lost. I could do basic things but beyond that seemed out of my grasp. I put my needles away and started playing World of Warcraft instead. You know you can make stuff in WoW right? And there ain’t no stinkin’ qiviut(k) in Azeroth.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey Part 2 November 28, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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Part 1

So back in my stateroom I begin the process of learning how to knit. There are four basic things to know: casting on, the knit stitch, the purl stitch, and casting off. Casting on is just the process of setting up the yarn on one of the needles. The knit stitch is using the other needle to pull yarn through one of the loops on the first needle and pulling the completed stitch onto the second needle. The purl stitch is the same thing, just on the back side of the loop. Once you get to the end and have transferred all the stitches to the other needle, you turn it all around and do it again. Each row builds upon the previous and before long you have a knitted fabric. Casting off is doing a series of special stitches that sort of “seal off” each final loop on the final row and completing the project. Knitting is probably 95% of doing just this. You get various textures by varying when you do a knit vs. a purl stitch and there are variations on the basics. You also shape your fabric by adding or subtracting stitches and there are various ways to do that. Knitting is also more than just back and forth; you can knit circular things too with additional double pointed needles or two needles joined with a cable.

Casting on is a bit tricky as the loops have to be put on in a special way that involes a twist around the needle. I got that down before too long and was underway. Exciting! I was determined not to make the same mistake as the kid in the story by doing everything too loosely. I’d make sure each stich was nice and snug before moving on. You have to keep a certain tension on the yarn as do each stitch. I did everything the way the book said, but the yarn in the hand feeding the knitting always felt too loose, like I just didn’t have control over it. Wrapping it around a couple extra fingers gave me good, tight tension. No loose shit for me! I ran into some problems very quickly though. That darned chenille didn’t seem to want to slide on and off the needles very well and every row just seemed to get tighter and tighter. Invariably it would get to the point where I couldn’t knit anymore or the yarn just broke. I struggled with it a few days and then gave up for the rest of the trip. I was doing something wrong and it was pretty obvious I wasn’t going to figure it out on my own.

So we get back home and I seek out the fabric / yarn store my Mom goes to for her quilting fabrics and supplies. It turns out a lady teaches knitting classes there for a nominal fee. I sign up and take the class and I soon learned what was wrong. First, chenille is a terrible yarn to start a beginner on. It has absolutely no “give” and it doesn’t slide well metal needles anyway. For the record, wool is actually the best yarn to start with. It’s inexpensive and slightly stretchy. My second problem was actually the worse one – I was knitting WAY. TOO. TIGHT. Apparently I learned the wrong lesson from the story. You’re not supposed to have a stranglehold on the yarn, indeed you’re supposed to have hardly any tension at all. That…was very hard to learn. It seemed like cheating to knit so loosely. I also made the switch from the Continental knitting method to the faster American method which helped. Eventually I did learn how to knit fairly well and even some of the more advanced techniques like cables. I learned circular knitting and then designed and made my own Santa hat!

Santa Hat of +5 to Awesomeness

Off and on when we discussed the cruise or my knitting my Mom would mention how much she really would like something made with that wonderful qiviut yarn. Well, Christmas was coming up so I went online to see if I could order some. Yes, indeed there are sites that sell it. And YIKE$! That’s $ome pricey $tuff! It’s nearly 100 dollars per ball! At just over 200 yards per ball the scarf design I had in mind calls for four balls. At that price I need to know what color she wants so that I can be absolutely sure she will like it. I tell her what she’s getting and show her the pictures of the colors but don’t tell her the price. She picks the natural, non-dyed gray color and I order it. I notice that it’s “lace weight” so I know it will be thinner than the yarn I usually use. I figured it would be like sock yarn, which is the thinnest stuff I’d worked with. It comes in and…it’s thin. So very thin. It’s not like sock yarn. No, Precious – not like sock yarn at all. I begin to suspect that might be in over my head with this stuff.

To be continued…

2012 – A Yarn Odyssey November 28, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Crochet, Knitting, Yarncraft.
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It’s been a long, strange journey that actually started several years ago, during a cruise up the Alaskan coastline. It was a wonderful, relaxing trip with new sights to greet me every morning outside on my room’s balcony. If you’ve never been on a cruise you owe it to yourself to do it at least once in your lifetime. But that’s enough shilling for the cruise-line industry. Anyway, even with all the things one can do on a cruise ship I did find myself with lots of spare time on my hands and I thought I would finally get around to trying something I’d been curious about since I was a kid: knitting.

Just sit right back and you’ll hear a tale
A tale of a fateful knit
That started from this arctic port
Aboard this mighty ship

As a kid? Yes, well if told a rightly I suppose this story really starts when I was in 3rd or 4th grade, some mumble years ago. One of our reading assignments was short story that has stuck with me for all these years and it planted the knitting seed in the back of my head. The story was set back in Dubya Dubya 2, and it was about a boy in elementary school. One day the teacher announces to her class that they were going to knit wash rags that were going to be included in care packages given to soldiers who were shipping out to Over There. Knitting needles and yarn were distributed, lessons given and the kids started their projects. One boy struggled with his knitting, starting out too loosely and then getting the hang of it as he neared the end. It turned out lop-sided and awkward and he felt bad about how some guy was going to get stuck with it. Alas, there was no time to re-do it as the care packages were to be packed up that day and distributed to the soldiers the next as they were leaving. The class went down to the train station the next morning to see them off. There was much waving and good-byes and such and just before the train started to pull away the boy saw that one of the soldiers had already dug into his care package and pulled out the knitted rag. It was his rag! It was recognizable because of the sloppy stitching on one side. The soldier was very sweaty and was using it to wipe his face and wave at the crowd from the train window. He had a big smile and seemed very happy with his rag. The boy felt much better as obviously it’s better to have a lop-sided rag than no rag at all. The end.

Yes, I remember all those details in that story from that long ago. I recount it here because it has bearing on stuff I do later. Now, back to the ship. We pull in and dock at one of the towns along the way and we head into the shopping district. One of the stores we find sells hand-knitted clothing articles made with 100% qiviut yarn. Ahhh, qiviut! “What is it” you ask? Good question, we had no idea either. It was explained to us by the salesperson that it’s the yarn made from the downy winter undercoat of the muskox that roam around in Alaska. It’s softer than cashmere and eight times warmer than wool. It’s so verrrry nice.

The Look of Luxury

It can’t be harvested like wool or other similar animal fibers. No, you have to wait for the one time of the year in the spring when the muskoxen shed their undercoat. There are only so many muskox around and most of the yarn is used making stuff to sell to tourists. A limited quantity of it is available to purchase to make your own stuff as I’d find out later. Prices in the store started out around $200 for small items, up to several thousand dollars for some of the nicer sweaters. No doubt it’s all marked way up for the rich cruise folks. We didn’t buy anything, but we were all very impressed by this super-soft yarn and it made me want to learn how to knit all the much more.

Later on I found a fabric store that sold knitting supplies. Yay! I bought a starter kit with a pair of needles, instruction book and other items. I asked the nice lady who ran the store what would be a good yarn for a learner to start out with and she showed me a selection of chenille yarns that she had. “My granddaughter started out with this,” she explained. I picked out a pretty blue-green hank and left the store determined to master this ancient and arcane art.

To be continued…

Too Fun Not to Post January 17, 2012

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Knitting.
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Tree Sweater!

Yes, I have trees in desperate need of being more interesting, so I’m yarn-bombing them.

The tree sweater wasn’t quite ready when I took this picture but I finished it off last night. Tonight I’ll put it on for good. The next tree is going to get a more formal look in black and white stripes. Or, I guess it will look like it’s dressed up in those old timey prison uniforms. An escaped convict tree. lol.

**Edit**

I suppose I should add a few technicals: I used cheap (on sale! half off!), double-thick acrylic yarn in (mostly) double crochet (treble crochet to those of you Across the Pond) using my biggest crochet hook. It came together pretty quickly and was a good way to practice the basics after not doing any yarn craft in such a long time.

I put it on the tree last night but it was too dark to stitch up the seam. I suppose it doenn’t matter much since the yarn sticks like velcro to the bark of the tree. It looks cute! And I’m not quite done with it yet, but that will have to wait for the weekend.

My Christmas Loot December 26, 2011

Posted by Mitchell in Home, Knitting, Leather.
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This year we all agreed that we all have a lot of stuff and we don’t need a lot more stuff so we were going to back off giving a lot of stuff. That said, I still got a fair amount of stuff. Here’s the run down of the minor stuff: some little kitchen tools, a nifty little book on 50 ways to make deviled eggs (I’ll post some of the more interesting ones), a pair of fleece-lined slippers (very comfy), a great little credit card/money clip thingy for when I don’t want a big wallet. Those were the “stocking stuffers”. On to the Main Features:

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Cool huh? I LOVE these buckyballs! I’ve been playing with them ever since I got home yesterday. In fact I went online and ordered three full sets in silver, gold and black. If you buy two sets from Thinkgeek they’ll throw in the blue sidekick set for free.

Then there’s the Big Gift. They weren’t supposed to do a Big Gift this year since they gave me the Kimber 1911 last year for this year’s Big Gift, but they did it anyway with the really cool leather knitting basket from Renaissance Art. Yeah, I know Mr. Art ticked me off earlier this year, but I shall forgive him; this thing is beyond awesome. Finely crafted leather goods covers a lot of sins. 😀

So how did y’all do?

What I Did On My Vacation August 16, 2010

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Knitting.
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I mostly worked on The Amazing Technicolor Möbius Dreamscarf:


It took two skeins (plus a bit more) of a really nice Japanese yarn that’s 70 / 30 wool & silk.

Better lit closeups below the fold

(more…)

Perfect! July 9, 2010

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Home, Knitting.
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My latest purchase from Saddleback Leather came this morning! Yes, I bought another one; I needed it. Shut up, I did too need it. I’m getting back into knitting again and I thought that one of the little travel bags would be just the thing for a cool project bag. Check it out!

It’s absolutely the perfect size for standard size needles & crochet hooks and plenty of space for lots of yarn. Take a look inside:

I gotta say, I LOVE these things. After I bought the first two, I promised myself that I wasn’t going to buy anymore until one of these small bags popped up in the “Dave’s Deals” section where they sell some slightly irregular items at a discount. Well, I watched and waited for ages and none of them ever showed up so I figured that either they never make mistakes on these or they just don’t bother to sell them when they do. Regardless, I decided I’d just go ahead and get it, so I did. 🙂

Crochet Bag January 14, 2010

Posted by Mitchell in Art, Knitting.
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So this weekend I finished my first real crochet project and I’m really happy with the way it turned out.  Take a look:

It’s a pretty good-sized bag great for carrying lots of stuff. It actually went together pretty fast, after I finally got it started right after about six or seven tries. Check out the inside and bottom:

The really neat thing abot this is that the bottom circle is made out of two pieces that serve as the bag’s own storage pouch when I’m not using it:

Pretty neat!