Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Baby Play-Book

A few of my knitting friends recently got together to make a baby gift for a mutual friend who is expecting. Our first thought was to make a blanket, as there were 6 of us contributing, but dealing with gauge issues just to give mom another baby blanket seemed like more of a hassle than a blanket was worth. In the end, we settled on creating a soft play-book.

The play book turned out to be a great idea. Everyone made a roughly 8-inch square out of machine-washable yarn of any color using any stitch pattern. The 'pages' were then sewn to a garter stitch 'binding' (with one ridge of garter binding per page) to create the book. And because my friend M could not resist, she added safety eyes and ties to make it look like the 'Monster Book of Monsters' from Harry Potter.

The best part of this project was that the contributed squares were so different. My friend J added pockets to her square and filled them with sea creatures (above). Another friend did an intarsia square. My square was a boring knit-purl design that turned out too big. But in the end, the jumble of colors, sizes, and designs just made this book a better toy.

The mom-to-be loved it. While the baby won't be playing with this book for a little while, I expect that it will amuse someone in the meantime; you're never to old to enjoy a non-lethal copy of 'The Monster Book of Monsters'.

Thursday, October 20, 2011

Finishing Handspun

As for many knitted objects, 'finishing' is the final step in creating handspun; finishing sets the twist and gives the yarn a finished look and feel. Since I wrote about the blocking process for handknits a while ago, I thought I should follow up with the process for finishing handspun.

This photo shows a recently handspun skein just after it came off of my spindle. You can tell that my yarn is not very smooth and still wants to twist a bit. This most likely results from residual twist in the yarn, which can be unevenly distributed throughout the skein

The first step in finishing handspun is the same as for finishing handknits: soaking. I fill up my bathroom sink with warm water and a generous squirt of Soak. I immerse my yarn in the water, being careful not to agitate it and thus felt it, and let everything sit for half an hour.

The next step is my favorite part of the cleaning process, which is unfortunately not pictured: thwacking. I do this either by holding one end of the skein and throwing the rest against the side of the tub, or by grabbing the skein at both ends and pulling tightly. Thwacking helps redistribute twist and even out the yarn, so I do it several times while holding the yarn in different places. Then I hang the skein over the tub, unweighted, to air dry.

That is the whole process! You can see from the finished result that the yarn is much smoother than it was at the beginning of this process. As long as you've done a fair job of balancing the twist during plying, this finishing process should smooth out any residual twist in your handspun.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Knit One Knit All

My discussion of short-rows and their execution in garter stitch from last week seems to be a natural segue into a review of the new Elizabeth Zimmerman (EZ) book, Knit One Knit All. If you've never read an EZ book, get thee to a library and pick up a copy; Knitting Around and The Opinionated Knitter are my favorites. The focus of this latest EZ book is patterns that maximize knitting and minimize purling. Needless to say, garter stitch takes center stage here.

Not all of the patterns in this book use short rows, but a lot of the more innovative ones do. Patterns like the Ambidextrous Mittens, Sideways Gloves (below), and Brimmed Hat - Panache [Ravelry links] all make use of this technique. EZ is a master of creative construction and these patterns demonstrate the type of outside-of-the-box design that EZ was renowned for.

Beyond accessories, sweater and vest patterns make up the other large portion of this book. Again, you find uniquely constructed knits such as the Mitered Cardigan (below), Suspender Sweater, and New Zealand Pullover [Ravelry links]. The neat thing about a lot of these sweaters is that different parts of the sweater are oriented in different directions (for example, the front panel is vertical garter stitch while the garter stitch in the back panel is horizontal). The best part is that, since these are EZ designs, there will be minimal seaming.

Overall, I would say that this is another excellent EZ book but isn't quite a stranded-on-a-desert-island-with-only-one-knitting-book book like some of her other titles. Still, given the focus nature of the patterns, there is some pretty innovative stuff within these pages; there was a lot of oohing and aahing the first time I flipped through this book. So even if you don't buy this book, you should definitely borrowing a copy from your local library.

Tuesday, October 04, 2011

The Short-row Shuffle

Like a lot of knitters, I was intimidated by the concept of short rows until I did them for the first time and realize that they are not that bad. I've since used them on an Elijah, my Vivian sweater, and my Lightweight Mountains Peaks shawl. They are really not that difficult and are quite helpful in certain situations.

You work short rows by knitting part of a row, anchoring the yarn, then turning the work around and knitting back to the start of the row. This effectively lengthens one side of your knitting more than another, which is useful in a variety of cases. For example, in the case of Elijah, short rows were used to shape the ears; for Vivian, they were used to raise the neckline in the back of the sweater; and in the lace shawl, short rows helped turn the corner of the edging.

The key to short rows in anchoring your working yarn. If you do not anchor, you end up with a little hole where you've basically created a hard edge where there shouldn't be one. You anchor the yarn by doing a wrap and turn (w+t): knit the desired number of stitches, slip the next stitch with yarn in back,bring yarn to front and turn the work (yarn is in back again after turning), slip that stitch again, then knit to the end of the row. Basically, you've wrapped the working yarn around an extra stitch to anchor the yarn to the fabric and avoid creating a hard edge.

The real confusion about short rows comes from what to do with that wrap when you next encounter it. Techknitter gives a nice run down of several options of what to do at this point, so I advise you to head over there for the best explanation. For the purpose of this blog post, I'll highlight what I do with wraps in garter stitch: I simply ignore them. The wraps look like purl bumps and blend seamlessly into the fabric.

If you want to learn short rows for the first time, I advise you to start in garter stitch, so you don't have to worry about hiding the wraps. I recommend making a pair of Garter Stitch Mitts (that's the pair I just finished, above), which is a cute free pattern that uses wrap and turns to do most of the shaping. Once you feel comfortable with the 'wrap and turns', it won't be any problem to tackle other short row methods that hide the wraps in fabrics like stockinette.