Monday, December 24, 2007

Snowflakes and Cameras

Our household needs another camera. This post should have gone out over a week ago, except that I was waiting to get my hands on the camera and then transfer the photos over to the 'puter.

Not only do I need ready access to a camera, it would be nice if I could develop some skill in using it. Oh, well. That's another task for another time. I can see some improvement from when I started this blog. I suppose there is no Secret Photography Genius waiting to be unleashed here.


Here at the Doily Underground, we do more than knit doilies. Sure, you all know that I knit other things. However, knitting is not the only thing I do. I spin. I dye. I braid. I weave (mostly narrow wares). Etc.

I also crochet. At this time of year, I crochet snowflakes. I have a serious weakness for crocheted snowflakes. Over the years, I've made dozens of them. I usually give them away, of course. Most people seem to think that they're rather cute, and not a sign that the maker is seriously unbalanced.

Scattered among this post are a few of the ones that are still around the house. I don't know if they'll stay here or if I'll pass them along to the next unsuspecting soul in need of a holiday gift.

My doily knitting habit provides the raw material for the snowflakes. I crochet them from the remnants of the threads I use for knitting doilies. The snowflakes don't take much thread.

I get the patterns from various sources. Some are off the internet. Some are from various publications one can find in the needlework stores, things from Dover or Leisure Arts and the like. One of my favorites is a German crochet magazine with a Christmas theme. Someone kindly gave that to me a few years ago. I try to restrain my buying habits, because how many snowflake patterns can one household absorb? (Let's not get into my knitted doily pattern collection.) I probably have a few hundred different snowflake patterns scattered among the various booklets, magazines, and internet print-outs.

Snowflakes are quick to crochet. They rarely take more than an hour per flake. The ones I do are usually less than 6 or 7 rounds. They're excellent stress relief. It's fun to have something to show for such a small amount of work.

After I've done a pile of them, it's time to get them ready for gift-giving. I prepare a blocking board, usually cardboard but sometimes styrofoam. I put plastic wrap on it so the snowflakes don't stick.

I prepare a blocking solution of Elmer's glue (or any white glue) heavily diluted with water. It doesn't need to be very gloopy. Then, I dump all the snowflakes in the solution until they're soggy.

I remove a snowflake, squeeze out most of the liquid, and carefully pin it out on the blocking board. I pin the points and anything else that needs pinning. I can manually stretch out some of the other parts of the snowflake if necessary.

After all the snowflakes are pinned out, I let them dry. (Big surprise, right?) After they're dry, I unpin them. I add a hook to a suitable point. The hook is often something simple like an opened-up paper clip. Then I give them away, except for the ones that hang around the house for a while.

I used to care passionately about realism in my snowflakes. They had to have exactly 6 points or they weren't worth making. Now I now longer care. They have to be fun to make. That's all.

What else do I crochet? Lace, of course. I like doilies, mostly the smaller ones. I don't like crocheted doilies as much as knitted doilies, but they're still fun to make when I'm in the mood. I include the amazing multi-motif crocheted tablecloth patterns in the doily category. I also have a weakness for lace edgings. In the yarn category, I find that crochet is good for afghans, cloths in general, some household items such as rugs or bags, and toys. I tend to prefer the elasticity of knitting for clothing items.


A project report: Since my last post, all I've done is part of a sock.

It's another toe-up sock with a short-row heel. The yarn is a patterned yarn from Regia. It's very cheerful -- narrow stripes of red, blue, green, aqua, and black, separated by narrow bands of gray and white checks. It's very easy to count the rounds on this one!

I should probably do an afterthought heel to keep the color pattern looking good. Since these socks are for me, and since the sock-knitting is for stress relief, I'm not going to bother with that detail. I'd rather knit the sock in one piece, with only the beginning and ending yarn to darn in. A friend of mine was impressed at my ability to turn one long piece of string into such a complicated shape. I smile when I think about that. It is part of the magic of knitting.

I've also thought about doing a toe-up sock in the way that top-down mittens are made. I'd make the toe and foot from one end of the yarn ball. I'd make the heel from the other. I'd join the heel in as I got there, similar to the way that the thumb of a top-down mitten is joined to the hand. Maybe I'll do that for some future sock project. Or maybe not.

Since the photo was taken, I've done another few inches. I'm happily going 'round and 'round. I won't have to decide on the leg length for a while longer.

This morning, I managed to do another several rounds on my Icelandic yarn sweater. That had been waiting until I had time to ball up some skeins of yarn. I finally had the time to wind a few more balls, and thus I can continue for a while. This is the sweater of simple stockinette with a staghorn cable going up the middle of the front. I still haven't decided what the top part is going to be like. It might be a square-set drop-shoulder. It might be another raglan.

I'll try to take a photo of the sweater when I've done enough for it to look interesting.

Wednesday, December 12, 2007

Generic Ribbed Hat (pattern, sort of)

Hats. I've been thinking about hats.

I won't bore you with all my musings just yet. However, I will note that they are excellent projects for using up small quantities of stash yarns, especially when you're not sure if you have quite enough for a pair (of socks, mittens, wristers, etc.). Hats make good travel knitting. They are fun to knit for quick gifts. And they are a classic for many of the charity-knitting projects out there.

Given that, I thought I'd share one of my standard no-pattern hats that I've been making lately. Some of them are photographed here.

I started making these hats because I had all these small skeins of handspun yarn in my stash. Many were dyeing experiments, or small quantities of variegated roving that had somehow made a home in my fiber stash. The handspun yarn batches were all roughly 2 ounces, give or take a bit. All were variegated, though most of the variegation was fairly subtle.

Hey, I like dyeing and spinning that kind of stuff. Only later do I wonder what to do with all the one-bobbin's worth of variegated yarn skeins that I end up with.

Anyway, I ended up knitting a bunch of hats. Since I wasn't in the mood for extensive planning and swatching, I made them simple.

Yes, this is a very basic ribbed hat. It requires no real swatching, just some vague idea of what your gauge might end up being. It's very elastic, and thus will fit a variety of head sizes. It's long enough to have a folded-up brim, which I find essential in a winter hat. The length of the brim doesn't really matter -- it depends entirely on how much yarn you end up using, plus the head size and preference of the wearer.

Given the flexibility of the pattern, it's a good one for charity knitting, and for stockpiling in case you unexpectedly need a hat for a gift or for a guest.

Generic Ribbed Hat

If you already have a good ribbed hat pattern, you probably won't be interested in this. If you don't, here's the way to do it. You don't need a pattern, just a basic template or recipe.

Pick some yarn. You'll need roughly 2 ounces. A little more is fine, a little less will work, too. Pick any kind of yarn you want -- solid, variegated, thick-and-thin, whatever. Feel free to strand two or more kinds of yarn together. I tend to do that for my thinner handspun, since I wanted these hats to be fairly quick knits. You can also change yarns every now and then if you like doing that sort of thing.

I have found that a single 50g ball of yarn may or may not be enough. It depends on the yardage, which of course depends on the yarn thickness. You may end up with a rather short hat.

Pick an appropriate circular needle. Have a rough idea of what your gauge is going to be. I usually go for worsted weight, more or less -- anything from Aran to DK weight, usually working up at 4.5 stitches per inch (for the Aran weight) to 5.5 stitches per inch (for the DK weight).

Cast on about 20" worth of stitches, rounded to a multiple of 4. Calculate this by using your gauge estimate; it may be anywhere from about 80 to 120 stitches unless you're working with fingering weight or finer yarn. When I cast on, I don't fret if I end up casting on a few more or less as long as I have a multiple of 4. Hats can vary in size from about 18" to 22", depending on the head size of the recipient. Anyway, these hats are stretchy.

Join the cast-on and start ribbing -- *k2, p2*, ad infinitum.

As the hat grows longer, you can measure your actual gauge and thus confirm that the hat will fit. If you're using 2 strands or variegated or textured yarn, you can decide if you like the fabric. If you don't like the fabric or you think the hat will be too small or too big, unravel and start over. It was a gauge swatch, no big deal. You should also confirm that you're making a tube. It's annoying to accidentally put a twist into your knitting, but definitely better to realize your mistake sooner rather than later.

Eventually, you will be near the end of your yarn, or perhaps your patience. It's time to decrease the top of the hat and finish it.

I do different kinds of decrease patterns, depending on how long the hat is and how much yarn I have left. If I'm low on yarn and the hat is fairly small, I do very few decrease rounds, as few as two or three. If the hat is longer and I have more yarn, I might stretch it out over 6-10 rounds.

The fastest decrease is to do a round of *k2tog, p2tog*, followed by a round of *ssk*, and then rounds of *k2tog* until you're down to 12 or fewer stitches. This will make a very gathered-looking top, but it fits well.

If you have a bit more yarn, do a round of *k2tog, p2tog*, followed by a round of *k1, p1*, then a round of *ssk*, then a plain round of knitting, then *k2tog* until you're down to the last few stitches. You can separate some or all of the *k2tog* rounds by a round of plain knitting if you prefer.

The longest method is to do a round of *k2, p2tog*, followed by a round (or rounds) of *k2, p1*. Then, do a round of *k2tog, p1* (or *ssk, p1*), followed by a round (or rounds) of *k1, p1*. Then, do a round of *ssk*, followed by a round or two of plain knitting. Finally, do rounds of *k2tog*, separated by plain rounds or not as you wish, until you're down to those last few stitches.

To finish off, run the yarn end through those last few stitches, pull snug, and hide all ends.

If you're the kind of person who likes pompoms or I-cord or tassels, by all means go ahead and add them to your hat.


This isn't the only kind of generic hat I knit. I tend to use these kinds of mental templates for basic hat structures, plugging in various kinds of stitch or color patterns as the mood strikes. I tend to do that with most other knitted items, too. I suspect that many knitters are similar in their approach to basic hats, mittens, scarves, sweaters, socks, etc.

Monday, December 10, 2007

The End of the Endless Scarf and other tall tales

First, here is a photo of the completed socks that I mentioned in my last post. As you may be able to tell, they look remarkably like socks. They function like socks. I am pleased.

I don't make all that many socks at the finer gauges. I like making and wearing thicker socks. These 8+ stitch per inch socks are lovely, but not as warm as the 5 stitch per inch quickies. I don't usually wear socks with regular street shoes, so thinness is not usually an issue. It is fun to make the finer gauge socks as well as the larger-gauge ones. I'm going to make a few more pairs, interspersed with some of the thicker socks.

I finished the diagonal garter stitch scarf. That's a photo of it above, in all its variegated clown-barf colored glory. Autumn-colored sounds better than clown-barf, but the phrase, once introduced, has a certain unforgettable vividness.

I'm not sure of the exact finished dimensions, but it's something like 6 feet long by 6 inches wide, give or take a bit. I used about 400 yards of this worsted-weight yarn. Since it was all garter stitch, and since I re-knit half of it, it seemed to take quite a bit longer than necessary. I'm glad it's done. I'm tired of doing diagonal garter stitch for now.

I used the following diagonal garter stitch scarf pattern variation, mentioned way back when I first wrote about this project.

Cast on 3 stitches.

Increase row: knit the first stitch, knit in front and back of the next stitch, knit to end of row.

Repeat the increase row until the scarf is wide enough (measured along the selvedge edge).

Decrease row: knit 1, knit 2 together, knit to end of row.

Alternate an increase row with a decrease row until the scarf is long enough, or you're just about out of yarn or patience.

Then, do decrease rows until you're back down to 3 stitches.

Cast off. Hide ends. Admire. Swear off garter stitch for a while.

Here is a close-up of the scarf, showing the stitch pattern and how it interacts with the variegated yarn. You can also see the ever-so-lovely selvedge. I knit the first stitch of every row. Big deal. It's a good choice for garter stitch, though.

I do like the way diagonal garter stitch looks with this variegated yarn. It almost looks like tapestry or needlepoint or something. Or maybe clown barf.

The scarf is a good length and width for wrapping around my neck and face. It is warm and soft. We're expecting snow tonight and tomorrow. The scarf may well get its first workout this week.


Now I am all out of travel projects. Yikes! What shall I cast on for my next travel project? It should be something that's on a circular needle, even if it's knit back and forth. It should have shortish rows or be totally circular, so I can put it down with very little notice. It should be relatively mindless.

Another shawl? Even the flat-knit ones can start out as travel projects, though they become house projects after they get large enough. I already have several circular-knit ones -- the usual pi shawls, spiral shawls, square shawls, doily shawls, etc., that any long-time knitter ends up having around the house. I could always use more, I suppose.

A hat? Another scarf? A plain sweater? (As opposed to the one with the cable up the front, which requires keeping track of where I am in the cable pattern.) A moebius thing?

The moebius thing has me thinking and plotting, since the moebius I've been wearing lately proved to have a few flaws when worn during a hike this past weekend. The weather was cold and foggy, with snow and some wind. The snow and ice encrusted on the outside of the moebius got my chin rather wet and cold whenever the wind blew. Given the temperatures and the wind chill factor, this was less than pleasant. Clearly, the design needs a bit of work. It's pretty reasonable for shoveling snow, and for hiking in less windy and/or snowy weather. I need something that will also work in yuckier weather.

One possibility is simply to make it a bit smaller in diameter. If it's a bit more snug, it won't blow around as much in the wind. Another possibility is to make a simple tube rather than a moebius. Those often go by the name of smoke ring or neck gaiter or wimple. It would keep my neck warm, yet I could pull it over my ears and lower face if necessary.

I'm doing research now -- online searches, checking out books, asking friends. Then it will be time to experiment and decide what works best for me. Perhaps I'll need several, depending on weather conditions and the social occasion.

In addition to the above, I've been working on my current socks, another toe-up pair at a relatively fine gauge. The sweater is coming along slowly, and ditto for the doilies. I've been in the mood for mittens and hats, so no doubt I'll soon be casting on for either a hat or mittens or both.

Tuesday, December 4, 2007

A Pair of Socks

No photos yet, but sock # 2 is done. I have achieved sockitude.

The stripes on the two socks started out at slightly different spots on the toe. By the time I reached the top, they were at the exact same spot. I wonder why? I don't think my gauge could have shifted enough to make up the difference. As far as I can tell, the two socks are the same, both in the number of rounds and in the actual measurements. Are the repeat lengths in Opal sock yarn exact or approximate?

I have enough of this yarn left to make at least one more sock. OK. My chances of ever getting this dyelot again are close to nil.

I probably have enough to make some wristwarmers. Or, I could strand it with another yarn to make another pair of socks or some mittens or a hat. It's enough for a small bag, though I don't know what I'd do with such a thing. Most probably, it will go in the oddball bin. I'll use it eventually.

It was hard not to cast on immediately for the next pair of socks. Tomorrow. Or maybe later today. Chances are they will be toe-up, too. Dunno if I'll choose one of the patterned yarns or not.

I'll have to wear this pair for a while before I decide whether I like this style of short-rowed heels.