Friday, December 18, 2009

Getting the Picture

I am still reeling from The Serendipity Effect around here. Sounds almost like a Robert Ludlum novel, doesn't it?

So a little after dawn this morning (& with help from the flash on my camera), I managed to snap a particularly good picture of the Gracie's Lace Cranberry Crush with the Dark Topaz AB beads, i.e. one that really shows off all the delicious colors. Rather than re-editing the previous post to include this new photo, I thought I would just publish a supplement.

This is one you will definitely want to view full-size. Just click and enjoy...

Thursday, December 17, 2009

Serendipity Strikes

I was sitting here yesterday, working on one knitting project and quietly musing to myself in the back of my mind about several more that are waiting in the wings. This has always been a favorite imaginative pass-time for me, because I am fascinated by the endless permutations of patterns and textures and colors. Who wouldn't be, right? And the addition of beads into my world this past summer has brought a whole new element of sparkle into the already heady mix.

Well... One thought led to another, and before long I found myself casting about on Ravelry for triangle shawl patterns and on Earthfaire for possible bead pairings to go with my luscious Gracie's Lace Cranberry Crush. It was just a casual search at first, really more of a fact-finding mission than anything else. (Click on this photo and/or the one above to get a closer look, especially if you did not see my earlier post about this delicious blend of70% extra fine merino wool, 15% silk, and 15% cashmere.)

And then it happened. Twice!!

First I rediscovered Sivia Harding's magnificent Harbour Lights Shawl. It's *exactly* the sort of thing that I had in mind. I wanted something triangular for ease of wear, as well as the possibility of experimenting with a faroese-style design. I think that Sivia's choice of lace patterns — evocative of candlelight or a glowing fireplace — will really show off the yummy warm tones of the yarn to best advantage. The original calls for about 800 yards of a fingering-weight yarn, so I will have to fiddle with the number of pattern repeats for my finer gauge, but with a little TLC & careful calculations, my 965 yards should be plenty. I am 99% sure that this is The One. So exciting!!

Then came the question of beads. Sivia Harding's designs almost always include at least a few beads (she explains why in this often-cited Knitty Editorial), and Harbour Lights is no exception. I was not sure at first that I even wanted to add beads to the multi-colored yarn. It's so hard to find just the right match and balance of hues...

But when I first purchased the yarn, just as a speculative exercise I asked Ellen at Earthfaire for some recommendations, and she sent me several bead choices in the 8/0 size, ranging from transparent topaz to olive green to a raspberry pink-lavender. Yesterday I went back to those options and started looking around again. Harbour Lights calls for 6/0 beads (albeit with a heavier yarn), and I was reasonably sure that I wanted the larger size even with the lace-weight. I was seriously considering a possible purchase -- plain silver-lined dark topaz -- and comparing various items already in my bead stash to the images in my head, when all of a sudden I happened to place one of my existing containers of silver-lined dark topaz AB next to the Cranberry Crush.

>> SHAZZAM!!! <<

It was a PERFECT match. Every color in the yarn is in these beads and vice versa.

This is 100% counter-intuitive. With a multi-colored yarn, normally the best approach would be to pick *one* of the colors for the beads, because what are the odds of finding just the right blend? All of Ellen's recommendations followed this pattern. So I was completely blown away. Was, am, and will be... I strongly suggest that you click on the image below, to get a closer look at the genuine DEPTH of this match. I deliberately took the picture in relatively low-light conditions, so that the colors in the beads (rather than their sparkle) would dominate.

To appreciate the full impact of this stunning revelation, you have to understand two things: (a) that I bought these beads quite a while ago, on spec, simply because I thought they were interesting, and (b) that I had been in a bit of a quandary ever since, not knowing what color yarn to choose to go with them. The beads were purchased completely independently of the yarn, in other words, and have been sorely in need of just the right match!! I sincerely doubted that I would find something anytime soon, either, because of the range of colors reflected in their shiny surface.

So to run across such a perfect blend more or less at random like this is *SERENDIPITY* in the truest and most astonishing sense. I am still waiting for the reality to sink in, and I have to wonder how long it will be before I cave in and do a test swatch or two so that I can pick my needles and really get started — although I would like to finish my Parisian Ostritch stole first. Less than 2 pattern repeats (& some intense beadwork) to go on that before the end...

Saturday, December 12, 2009

New Comments Policy: Everything in (or rather *with*) Moderation

Having readers all over the world is what makes keeping up a blog like this worthwhile, and I *love* it when they leave friendly comments about my knitting projects or whatever. Wanting to leave the door open to that sort of interaction, I had not placed any serious restrictions on comments up to now.

But then the day before yesterday a comment suddenly appeared here in Chinese. Unable to decipher it myself, I asked a Chinese student from one of my classes to translate it for me, and when she did, I learned to my dismay that it was a generic request to post a link to certain pornographic websites on my blog. Apparently there are automated "bots" that roam the web looking for potential places where such links can be inserted, and many of them originate in China.

What an UNWELCOME and DISTRESSING development!!

Although it is theoretically possible simply to delete an unwanted comment, I did not manage to locate the little trashcan icon at the time. So as an expedient, I ended up redoing the entire post, by copying its HTML code to a new entry and then deleting the original, comment and all. That is why my most recent post (from Monday, November 30th) now carries yesterday's date.

As a result of this incident and in order to prevent something similar from happening again, I have now turned *ON* the Comment Moderation function in Blogger. From now on, if/when you try to leave a comment on this blog, your remarks will not appear immediately. Instead, the server will prompt you to authenticate yourself via word verification and then notify me that someone would like to post a comment. I will then have to log in to my Blogger account and give permission in order for your comment to appear.

I sincerely apologize for any inconvenience or irritation that the new comments policy might cause my genuine readers, but I hope everyone will understand why I felt it necessary to take these steps. Please don't let the potential delay discourage you from making a comment if you have something relevant and/or constructive to say!!


Friday, December 11, 2009

"I can resist anything but temptation."

I have acquired a new treasure. Happy dance!!

It was a limited edition lace-weight offering from Earthfaire, and despite the famous quip from Oscar Wilde in the subject heading above, it will probably prove to be my last significant yarn purchase of the year: Fiesta Yarns Gracie's Lace (70% extra-fine merino, 15% silk, 15% cashmere) in a luscious colorway called "Cranberry Crush" that was specifically designed and hand-painted for the 2009 holiday season.

Of course, my attention was first grabbed by the striking combination of rich, yummy colors (rosy cranberry, golden cinnamon/russet, dusky violet, and cypress green), as well as the reference to mulled cider in Ellen's typically evocative description on the website. I am always a sucker for food-talk over the holidays!! But honestly, it was the cashmere content that persuaded me not to let this one go, because I knew I would live to regret it. And of course there are 965 irresistible yards in a single 100 g skein.

I placed my order last Tuesday (i.e. two days before Thanksgiving). There were only a handful of skeins to begin with. I believe I was the first to grab one, and I am very glad to have acted when I did, because the others are already gone. The package was shipped on Friday, and to my great pleasure it arrived in *today's* mail. What a wonderful surprise on a cold & blustery Monday!!

After taking some pictures of the unwound hank, I got out the swift and wound it right away, just to see how the colors would blend. Here are the results.

Click on any of these images to take a closer look. This is a real *stunner*, n'est-ce pas? :-)

The next step, naturally, will be to choose the perfect lace pattern. I don't have anything specific in mind just yet, but I will definitely be on the lookout. Whatever I choose, the garment will have to be something versatile, because this is one I will want to WEAR. Often.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Magic Carpet Ride!!!!

The Magic Carpet Ride is here!! I successfully blocked it yesterday evening, as promised. This was a great chance to break in my new blocking cloth, which allowed me to get nice straight edges without wires. But then I ended up having to wait most of the day today for the AA batteries to charge for the digital camera, so that I could get some pictures of the blocking process before removing the pins.

The finished dimensions of the stole are 13" wide by 83" long (i.e. a bit wider and almost 2 feet longer than the original 12" x 60"). My modifications to enhance the length really paid off, for this is a lavish and luxurious thing to wear, very Bohemian in its look & feel. I love, love, L-O-V-E the softness and sheen of the KnitPicks Shimmer with those dreamy, rich hand-dyed colors (although unfortunately the "Galaxy" colorway is now no longer available).

Here is the inevitable photo gallery. In the first four of these pictures you can clearly see the red gridlines of the blocking cloth peeking through underneath the lace. In the interests of full disclosure, I have included a closeup of the center seam, which was made by a 3-needle bind-off with a 3.25 mm (US size 3) circular needle, as opposed to the 2.5 mm (US size 1+) that was used for the rest of the knitting. The remaining pictures were taken after all the pins had been removed and the fabric could drape freely. Note the closeups of the intricate beadwork at the lower edge. As always, click on any one of the images to take a closer look...

It is a wonderful feeling to have this project complete at last. I look forward to adding this stole to my wardrobe, for one thing, and it should really help clear some space in my knitting bag!!

Saturday, November 28, 2009

Packing my bags for a Magic Carpet Ride...

Quick update: the knitting on my Magic Carpet Ride stole is now done!!

I've still got a bunch of ends to weave in, and I'll have to block the BEJESUS out of it, which may take some doing because it appears to have a good deal of bejesus *in* it. But there should be a happy gallery of photos to post here shortly... :-)

Friday, November 27, 2009

Thanksgiving Update

It's Thanksgiving time here in the US: food, family, friends, fellowship. And being mindful (what a marvelous word!!) of the most important things in life. Before going any further, then, let me first THANK MY READERS from around the world. You have stuck with me, and your continued support makes this whole enterprise worthwhile. :-)

Wow. Nearly a month between blog posts. *Again*. Sorry about that folks! I guess it's not all THAT surprising, though, given how Fall Term classes generally tend to work: slog, slog, slog to the finish line... I inevitably find my time & energy to be severely limited at this time of year, so I haven't had much of either left over for knitting lately, much less taking pictures & writing about it.

We can blame Facebook too. I resisted joining FB for a long time, mainly out of fear of what might happen if my students gained access to my personal page (Oh, horrors!!). But on November 11th I took the plunge & joined after all, in connection with an upcoming high school reunion (class of 1985: you do the math). Now that I've gone & done it, I have to say that it was a really good decision. Not only have the students behaved well so far, albeit under stern warnings, but I have also had loads of fun getting back in touch with people from various of my past lives. I've already amassed 99 FB friends, and that's twice as many as I have on Ravelry!! But my goodness, what a tremendous time-sink it can become. The reality is that when I come home from work at the end of a long day & feel really tired, I can either get some knitting done or spend some time on FB before I collapse, but probably not both.

So I haven't had much time to knit. Yet despite the need to keep the blog alive, I've been waiting to reach some project goals before taking pictures and working up a post. Progress has been slow, but fortunately, in the last week or so (and especially the last couple of days, because of Thanksgiving Break), I have finally begun to see some real results...

First, I now have less than 100 rows left on the 2nd half of my Magic Carpet Ride stole. HOORAY!!

I am excited to see what it will look like when blocked, because of the intricate pattern and luscious colors. I am using a colorway of KnitPicks Shimmer (70% baby alpaca, 30% silk) called "Galaxy" — a mixture of rich burgundy and several shades of purple — that has since been discontinued. The beads are 8/0 extra dark smoky amethyst AB and match the yarn to perfection. Despite being knitted in two halves, the pattern has managed never to become boring, because the combination of motifs changes and evolves as you go along. The original design is 12" wide by 60" long. In order to make mine somewhat longer, I have added a number of repeats to several of the panels (keeping both halves identical, of course).

For this series of pictures, I pinned out different sections of the second half of the scarf to show off the various patterns as well as the beadwork.The first two photos show the lower portion of the scarf, just above the bottom edge, and the subsequent ones (reading from left to right and top to bottom) gradually work their way up toward the mid-point, where the two identical halves will be grafted together, or (perhaps more likely) joined with a 3-needle bind-off. As always, click on any of the images to take a closer look.

The other big news of late has to do with the second beaded lace project that I started at the end of the summer, i.e. the one I've dubbed "L'Autruche Parisienne" ("The Parisian Ostrich") as a combined hommage to the magnificent hand-painted yarn (Twisted Sisters Impressionist Zazu in the colorway named "Paris Rain" after the the 1877 painting "Paris Street; Rainy Day" by Gustave Caillebotte) and the exquisite lace pattern ("Ostrich Plumes Stole" by Anne Hanson of KnitSpot).

I ran out of beads in mid-September, after less than 5 pattern repeats, and the project went fallow while I was waiting to order more & got distracted by other, more pressing things. In fact only yesterday (November 25th) did I finally revive it. But I am on vacation in the latter part of this week — and knitting goes fast on size 7 needles — so all of a sudden I have finished the first skein and started the second. I am now through nearly 7 out of 11 (or maybe 12) pattern repeats. Oddly enough, the skeins seem to be going a bit further than expected, so I anticipate having to place a 3rd bead order in order to complete the pattern as established.

I had quite frankly forgotten how buttery soft the 100% merino wool truly is. It feels fabulous in the hand, and I think the lace fabric after blocking will be a dream to wear.

The biggest problem has been trying to get a photo that will show the colors accurately. The yarn is a mixture of khaki and several shades of green and teal, verging on navy blue in places. It can look very different, depending on the light, and most photos come out either too olive or too blue. I pinned out the lace twice yesterday under different lighting conditions and took a series of pictures. Here are the best of the lot, showing a representative range of hues and tones. Again, click on any one to take a closer look.

My two ongoing sweater projects (i.e. Stornoway and Peggy Tudor) are mostly on hold right now, as I work to get these lace pieces finished ASAP. It may take a while, with the end-of-semester crunch on the horizon. But even so I promise that there will be more to post here very, very soon, once my most recent Earthfaire order arrives. Yummies...

Saturday, October 31, 2009

Queen of the Night

OK, talk about *BLING*...

I had to order more beads and wait for them to arrive, and then I got distracted for a while by Harmonia's Rings and the moebius technique, but my Queen of the Night cowl is now complete, and boy, is she a *stunner*. The beaded picot bind-off around the lower edge really makes the design.


After weaving in the tiny handful of loose ends, I soaked the fabric briefly in cold water and stretched it out to dry in lieu of actual blocking. When it dries, I will put it on and get my husband to take some pictures of how it looks when worn. But for now, here are the customary photos of the piece itself. As always, click on either one to get a closer look...

The rows upon rows of 4 mm silver-lined crystal magatamas really dominate the finished effect, because they stand out so dramatically against the black background. I think that the lace would probably show more if I had followed the pattern & used fewer beads, but the shimmer of all those magatamas in one place is absolutely entrancing.

The Shibui Silk Cloud yarn (60% kid mohair, 40% silk) is like a dream come true as well, with incredible sheen and softness, perfect color saturation, and a very fine gauge. My one regret is that I could only order a single skein of the Ink colorway on sale before it was out of stock at EarthFaire. I have found it available elsewhere at full price ($17 per 330 yard skein), so I will have to do some serious thinking about whether or not to invest in more, if not now then perhaps at a later date.

I learned recently that Rosemary Hill, the designer of the Ice Queen pattern on Knitty, has converted the same lovely fan-lace pattern to be knit flat as a scarf or stole, which she calls the Delta Queen. See all of her pattern designs here, and click here for multiple images of the Delta Queen scarf/stole. So if I do end up with more of the yarn at some point, the scarf to match my cowl would be a tempting project.

Monday, October 26, 2009

Christmas 2010 Update: More Yarn/Bead Pairings

When I first introduced the "Christmas 2010 Project" (roughly three weeks ago), I had beads picked out for most of the yarns, but not all. At least not yet. Since then I have been busy shopping about, and now, after two more Earthfaire orders, I can claim to have at least one bead option available for every yarn on the list, plus two more irresistible bead types that are ready & waiting for the right yarn to appear in turn.

Go ahead & laugh at my susceptibility to temptation, if you must, but these pairings are like food & wine, or cereal & milk: whether you start with an abundance of one or the other, the trick is playing Yenta & making just the right match...

The gallery format worked well last time, so I will do the same thing again. As always, click on any image to get a closer look.

This is Knit Picks Shimmer (70% baby alpaca, 30% silk) hand-dyed lace yarn in the "Bayou" colorway, now paired with 8/0 silver-lined root beer beads from Earthfaire. The KnitPicks website describes the yarn thus: "a rich combination of mallard green, brown, teal blue and a medium yellow green that makes us feel like we are standing on the dock of a marshy landing." I think the cocoa brown beads will really bring out that particular shade from the complex background.

The same beads are also available in the 6/0 size, and although I have used 8/0 with Shimmer in the past (e.g. for my Magic Carpet Ride scarf/stole), I am prepared to leave my options open here, depending on the pattern design(s) that I eventually choose. Since I have four hanks of this yarn on hand (= 1760 yards), there will be ample opportunity to explore and create. I feel comfortable leaving my options open for the time being, because based on their reassurances to me when they temporarily ran out of the 8/0 size, the people at Earthfaire seem to want to keep the bead colorway in stock if they can.

Wow. I could look at these breathtaking jewel tones all day long. Seriously...

This is Unique Sheep Eos lace-weight (50% merino, 50% tussah silk) in the "Aurora Borealis" colorway, now delightfully paired with 4 mm silver-lined capri blue magatama beads. Shazzaaaam!! I got two containers of the beads (i.e. approximately 770 shiny things) because they might sell out. That should be enough for at least one moderately bead-intensive project, although with four skeins of the yarn on hand (= 2460 yards), we may very well be looking at more than one project before the end. It all depends on which of the many available lace patterns ultimately catches my eye.

Photos really don't do this third lovely pairing justice. It took several tries just to get a picture that I liked... This is also Unique Sheep Eos lace-weight, in the warm & sunny, back-to-nature colorway called "Deep Forest".

The dominant note in the yarn is obviously grass green, but there is a golden brown in the mix as well (perhaps shown to better advantage here, on the hank before winding), which the 6/0 sparkling metallic gold-lined crystal beads really bring to the fore. Yummy — so much potential to create a special look.

And now here are two versions of topaz beads which have really captured my imagination lately.

On the left are 6/0 silver-lined dark topaz. The same beads are also available in the 8/0 size, but I wanted to start with the larger ones, for sheer saturation of color. Cranberry & rose-tones dominate amid all the colors of the rainbow, surrounded by a deep, rich golden glow. I can't quite decide what color of yarn I will want to pair with these stunning specimens, but dreaming up possibilities is at least half the fun.

The beads on the right are cinnamon-lined topaz luster 8/0 triangles. WOW. The sparkle is absolutely scintillating!! (Scintilla is the Latin word for "spark," by the way). Delicious little shiny nuggets of rich color, so cozy & comforting to look at. Ellen at Earthfaire writes: "Think of the warm glow of firelit evenings in autumn, with cinnamon pumpkin muffins in the oven.... Ahhhh...." Love love L-O-V-E!! I am coming to the conclusion that they will look best with an ivory or off-white (e.g. natural wool) yarn, so don't be surprised if my next consignment of lace yarn contains something of that description.

Harmonia II - TA-DAAH!!

I had a fun weekend, pointedly NOT grading papers and instead happily knitting away on my second Harmonia's Rings cowl, which I named Sangioevese after the savory Italian red wine grape.

I finished in what seemed like no time at all!! Here is a gallery of the finished object, although photos can't really do justice to the effect, especially the beads. Threading two dozen wavy leaves onto the mohair yarn was no picnic (I could *never* have made the crochet hook method work with two thickish plies & all that fuzz!!), but the result was well worth the extra effort. Between the rich cranberry color and the AB glow, they truly sparkle, and they match the yarn *perfectly*. I took a whole bunch of pictures, trying to capture them from different angles. As always, click on any image to see a closeup view.

Yet for all that the cowl looks great on its own, without a person wearing it, the real genius of the design lies in the fit & drape. I will have to get my husband to photograph it on me, so that you can see what I mean. The fabric is subtly shaped to nestle itself around your neck & shoulders in the most incredibly cozy & inviting way. Once you have this garment on, you NEVER want to take it off again, at least not while there is still that icy chill in the air...

It would make a scrumptious gift too. Right off the bat, I can think of several people on our Christmas list who would love to have something like this. Almost any soft worsted-weight yarn would do, as long as it feels nice against the skin. My stash had better look out, then, because I could easily make several more of these without having to buy another skein!

Saturday, October 24, 2009

Harmonia I & II

I finished the ivory wool cowl — Harmonia I, a.k.a. "Music of the Spheres" — yesterday morning in time to wear it to campus, where it kept me toasty warm all day long, despite the icy Arctic draft from the windowpanes in my office. *Magnificent*.

This is such a clever design: the nubbly textured pattern is not only perfectly symmetrical both front-to-back AND top-to-bottom (as demanded by the moebius technique) but with all those nooks & crannies it also collects and holds in little pockets of blissfully warm air around the neck & shoulders. Although I did not actually sleep in it last night, I took it off just before lights-out & put it right back on again as soon as I awoke. YUMMY.

And when I got home from work yesterday afternoon, I could not resist casting on for Harmonia II (a.k.a. the "Sangiovese cowl"). The yarn is from the deepest, darkest depths of my stash, dating back 20 years or more. I went through a mohair phase in the late 1980's, and these several partial skeins of deep magenta and royal purple were part of an ill-conceived sweater project which thankfully never got very far off the ground. I was happy to salvage the usable remnants during my stash clean-up last summer, and now, lo & behold, they have finally found their true calling. I have named the project for my favorite Italian red wine grape (literally "blood of Jove"). This may be exactly the same pattern as the first cowl, but I think it makes its fashion statement in a different dialect altogether. As always, click on either image to get a closer look.

I bought some very special beads from Earthfaire to go with the mohair: wavy leaves in a rich cranberry color with an AB coating on one side. They came in a little packet of 25 beads, which was just one more than the pattern calls for. The colors match the yarn to perfection, and I think they will add a glamorous embellishment to the neckline.

Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Moebius Cowl update

First, a technical note...

The initial, Moebius portion of the Harmonia's Rings cowl consists of four 12-row pattern repeats (= 8 rings) done on a long (40” or 47”) circular needle specially twisted for the purpose. Stitches in the 1st half of each Moebius round add fabric to the upper or neck edge; stitches in the 2nd half, to the lower or yoke edge. On the 3rd and 4th pattern repeats you begin shaping the yoke by gradually increasing the # of stitches in the 2nd half of the Moebius round, while the # of stitches in the 1st half of the Moebius round remains the same. Then you do a picot (or beaded picot) cast-off on that 1st half of the stitches, finishing off the neck edge, and finally join the 2nd half of stitches into a simple (now non-Moebius) round on a shorter (24”) circular needle to complete the remaining rings of the yoke, winding downwards below the Moebius crossover.

Opting to forgo the beads this time, I did a simple picot bind-off and have now begun work on the lower yoke portion. The 24" circular needle is visible at the lower edge of the photo above, where the stitches are obviously gathered together rather closely, certainly more so than they eventually will be, once the piece is off the needles. With the subtle shaping, I am confident that it will settle nicely onto my shoulders.

Call me crazy, but the textured pattern of the concentric rings in this ivory (natural wool) color perversely reminds me of the leaning tower of Pisa...

Monday, October 19, 2009

Left-Handed Moebius Knitting!!!

What a HOOT!! Check this out...

Somewhere along the way in recent weeks, while trolling for small gift-friendly projects like scarves & neck-warmers, I ran across the Moebius cowl known as Harmonia's Rings by Sivia Harding. It uses Cat Bordhi's ingenious Moebius cast-on (YouTube instructions here), and I became so curious about what would happen if I tried the technique left-handed that I finally dove into my stash this morning and came up with some natural ivory Brown Sheep wool yarn that could be employed for an experimental run.

I had no trouble at all following the instructions and got it to work on the first try, simply by doing a mirror-image of whatever Cat Bordhi did. My lefty Moebius may be twisting the other way from the right-handed version. I can't quite tell. But that won't matter. It's a really fun knit, fast & easy. I'm using US size 9 (5.5 mm) needles, which are a real change of pace from my usual tiny-gauge stuff. Just click on the image above to get a closer look.

If this first attempt with the Brown Sheep works out as nicely as I expect, I'm hoping to make a second deluxe version of the same pattern with some mohair yarn that I have left over from about 20 years ago. I'll probably have to combine two different colors of the mohair, because I don't have enough of either one, so I wanted to complete the pattern in a single color first, both to learn the Moebius technique and to get to know the architecture of the design so that I could then decide how to place the colored bands.

If you can believe it, the pattern actually calls for a ring of *BEADS* around the neckline. Sivia Harding is nuts about beads, as she confesses in this often-cited Knitty editorial. I've ordered some special beads to go with the mohair (heck, it helped fill out the emergency order for the Queen of the Night's extra magatamas), but I'm not sure if I will try to pair anything with the ivory yarn or not. One of the topazes might work, or maybe I'll stick with a simple picot edging this time. We'll see...

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Queen of the Night: A Second Look

Here are some up-to-date photos of my Königin der Nacht cowl, to show the dazzling *sparkle* created by all those extra beads that I have been adding (see previous post).

In the image on the left, the tube of knitted fabric is folded flat, so that you are looking at a double layer throughout and can really see the gently undulating rows of beads. As your eye moves across from left to right, notice that columns of single beads alternate with groups of three in a chevron pattern. In the image on the right, the front lower edge of the cowl has been pulled down a bit to reveal more of the lace (now in a single layer) silhouetted against the pale background. The 3-bead chevrons are in the lacier sections, with the columns of single beads running up the center of the denser patches. So there is a very pleasing "Chiaroscuro" contrast (i.e. light vs. dark).

The designer writes that the best part about this pattern is this: "Wearing it makes you feel like a movie star!" So if mine ends up being more Cher than Audrey Hepburn, with all that extra *bling*, I think I can live with that. :-)

If you didn't happen to click on one of my previous links to the 1815 set design for The Magic Flute by Karl Friedrich Schinkel, you should really compare his starry sky backdrop for the Queen of the Night's entrance to the pattern of beads on my cowl. There is really a remarkable similarity: he used groups of three as well!

As it happens, I followed the Ice Queen pattern correctly for the first 20 rows near the bottom edge, where every row is supposed to be knitted precisely according to the chart, without the dreaded footnote coming into play at all. So the beads there are spaced vertically farther apart than in the body of the cowl, where I started placing them every 4 rows instead of every 8. That little discrepancy, and the resulting area of the cowl where beads are relatively scarce, might be seen as a problem, and I suppose I could even go back later and add more beads to the rows in question. But I think it may instead end up looking like a deliberate design decision, taken to balance the dense row of beads running all along the bottom edge, especially if I mimic the wider spacing of bead rows near the top edge as well. The movement from more beads to fewer to more to fewer again should be a pleasant thing. At least I hope so. We'll see.

Fortunately, since the bottom row of beads will be added only at the very end by means of a beaded picot cast-off (once the provisional cast-on has been removed and the stitches are placed back onto a circular needle), I can still decide to go back and add more beads to the lower part of the scallops if they don't look right, when all is said & done.

Fine Print?!!

OK. This is just too funny...

My Queen of the Night has been going through an awful LOT of beads, to the point where I realized a little while ago that I would actually have to order a second container of beads in order to finish the piece as I have started it, especially with the intensely beaded picot bind-off around the scalloped edge at the bottom. This seemed strange, though, because the pattern only calls for 300 beads, and the container (which was full at the start) holds almost 400.

>>> Hmmm. <<<

The sudden quandary prompted an investigation. At first I really couldn't figure out what was going on, until my eye happened to fall on a footnote in the pattern, where it says that beads should be placed on every *other* pattern repeat (i.e. every 8th row). Ignoring that instruction, I had simply been following the chart as written, and therefore placing beads every *4th row*. Twice as many beaded pattern repeats means twice as many beads. Q.E.D.

Mystery solved. But now what to do?

The more I think about it, the more I must conclude that there is just NO WAY I am going to rip back and redo the thing, especially with a mohair yarn, which likes to stay put once it's been knitted into place. Besides, the effect of all those sparkly beads against the dark background is strikingly similar to the dramatic star-spangled sky in this famous set design for an 1815 production of The Magic Flute by German artist Karl Friedrich Schinkel. To quote Lady Macbeth, I'm simply going to have to "screw my courage to the sticking-place" and place yet another EarthFaire order.

So my Queen of the Night is going to be extra super-DUPER-glamorous. But it could be worse, right??

P.S. Frost Advisory!!

As a follow-up to my previous post... The temperature here got down to 32 degrees overnight, and there is an honest-to-goodness frost advisory in effect for the early morning hours. I had better get busy on that snuggly cowl.

Saturday, October 17, 2009

The Queen of the Night and The Flying Magatama Brothers

Wherein we go from the Sublime to the Ridiculous, and back again...

It's mid-October now, and the weather here has taken an unmistakably autumnal turn in recent days, with the trees all changing color and a suddenly noticeable chill to the air. So in spite of having too many WIP's on the needles already, I decided to get to work right away on my beaded lace cowl, the one item for myself that I snuck in along with the "Christmas 2010 Project." I am usually very much a process knitter, but I will be delighted to see this garment finished in a hurry, because I want to start wearing it ASAP. It will be Just the Thing to jazz up and *warm* up my walks to and from campus every day (~0.7 miles each way, morning and afternoon/evening). Fortunately, it should be a very quick knit: I am already ~30% finished, after only a few hours' work.

The pattern is Ice Queen by Rosemary Hill from Knitty, Winter 2007. It is knit in-the-round and can be done either with stockinette stitch (all k) or garter stitch (alternating k & p rounds). I have chosen the garter-stitch version, because I think the nubbly texture will accentuate the warmth of the finished piece. The yarn is Shibui Silk Cloud, a delightfully cozy lace-weight 60% kid mohair and 40% silk (shown here in purple). My colorway is called Ink, pitch black with a lovely sheen (that's the silk content). I was fortunate to grab the last skein that EarthFaire had in stock. The beads are 4 mm silver-lined crystal magatamas, simple but snazzy, with more than a hint of genuine glamor to them.

I have dubbed this project the "Königin der Nacht" ("Queen of the Night"), because the combination of the inky black yarn and the sparkling crystal beads reminds me of that remarkable character from my favorite Mozart opera. Her famous aria ("Der Hölle Rache" i.e. "The Vengeance of Hell") is the stuff of legend in soprano circles, reaching the F above high-C. Nor do I doubt that the cowl named after her will make a dramatic entrance too.

Yet whereas there is nothing more Sublime than Mozart opera, the Ridiculous side of life reared its silly head yesterday morning, when I tried to do too many things at once. I had been placidly knitting away for a while on the bottom part of the cowl, with my yarn and needles and a tray with a bead mat and the container of beads all sitting on my lap. No problem, right? Knowing a bit about both the laws of physics and my own predilections, I am always very careful to pour out only a few beads at a time. BIG potential for disaster otherwise...

Anyway, I had just finished a beaded round, when glancing up at the clock I realized that I should probably check my campus email, because I was scheduled to give a midterm exam at noon and on the day of a test students can generally be counted on to come up with last-minute questions or other emergencies. So I reached over and grabbed my little netbook — smaller and lighter than a full-size laptop but perfectly suited to such routine tasks as email or, for that matter, blogging (ahem) — booted it up, and started typing. Somewhere along the way I must have lost track of the fact that I had LOOSE BEADS in my lap, because a little bit later I absent-mindedly shifted position, and everything tipped sideways.

>>> YIKES!!! <<<

The sound of the beads bouncing around in their (*oops*) open container alerted me to the, er, gravity of the situation, so I reacted quickly, and that transformed what followed from tragedy into farce. Only about two dozen beads actually spilled, but they went in all directions. Man, can those little buggers ever travel!! Even now, I keep finding stray sparkly objects within what may exaggeratedly be termed the blast-radius of yesterday's incident.

As I scrambled first to close the bead container, preventing further mishap, and then to corral the wanderers back to where they belonged, a phrase came unbidden into my head: The Flying Magatama Brothers. Sounds just like a Japanese circus act, doesn't it?!! I knew that I had found the perfect headline for my next blog installment...

And now, here are the customary photos of my new work-in-progress. There are two of them. As always, click on either one to get a closer look.

I absolutely love love L-O-V-E the way the beads nestle in the fuzzy nooks & crannies of the lacy mohair, sparkling for all the world like ice crystals or diamonds or twinkling stars in a moonlit sky. Looking at them takes me right back to the Sublime...

Monday, October 12, 2009

Project Bars

I just found out that there's a link to this site from Jean's Knitting blog on account of my progress bars. Since it appears that I have been getting a whole lot of hits lately from that one particular link, I thought I should post something on the subject for the benefit of people who may come here in search of more information.

As Jean points out, my progress bars are directly linked to my Ravelry account, so that each WIP listed on the blog has a link to the appropriate project on my Ravelry profile, and (which is even more exciting) any WIP %-completion updates that I make on Ravelry are relayed automatically to the blog sidebar.

Pretty nifty, huh?

I wish I could take credit for this miracle of modern technology, but the code widget that makes the magic happen is NOT my own invention. In fact, there is an entire group & corresponding forum/discussion board on Ravelry called "We <3 Progress Bars." Note that "<3" is text-message speak for a sideways heart = "love". I found everything that I needed right there, in the aptly named Extremely Helpful Thread. Clever Ravelers have devised lots of different variations on the theme of progress bars, some of them very elaborate, including photo galleries and other high-end bells & whistles. It can become quite a project in itself.

Fortunately, the straightforward version that I preferred was extremely simple to bring off. Once I figured out what I wanted and found Casey's pre-packaged code, the actual setup on Blogger took only a couple of minutes. You go to your "dashboard" and click on the "Layout" tab, and then use "Add a Gadget" to insert the necessary code into the sidebar of your blog. Copy & paste. Ta-DAH!!!! I think the only thing I did to customize it was to pick my own color scheme.

So that's the story. Please leave a comment here or send me a Ravelry email, if you have any further questions that I might be able to answer.

Happy knitting!!!

Stornoway Front Yoke: Photo Finish

At *LAST*...

It was a like a big race (thoroughbreds, swimmers, hurdlers, or similar) coming down to the finish-line: would I get to the end of the front yoke on my Stornoway before the 1st cone of yarn ran out, or would it be the other way around?

Of course there were no thundering hooves, no crowds of loud spectators on the scene, no running commentary being broadcast to the world. Just me and my needlework. But these are the small domestic dramas that shape a knitter's life.

For a long time it was too close to call. I had expected the cone to run out sooner than it did, but it kept unwinding, and the knitting went on and on. The suspense was palpable. I honestly couldn't tell how things would work out until I reached the very last row on the second side of the neckline and realized that the allotted task and the available material were on track to line up almost perfectly. As it happened, I got to the end of the knitting with just a few yards of wool to spare.

Here are the customary photos, including a wide shot of the entire front and more of a closeup on the neckline. The modified shaping came out really nicely, IMHO. I even used ssk's for the decreases on the second side, to mirror the k2tog's on the other side. Nobody slants the wrong way!! Just for fun, I'm also throwing in a picture that shows the empty cardboard cone with the little coil of leftover yarn next to it. As usual, click on any one of the images to get a closer look.

It feels good to have reached this point, after all the build-up in my mind. I am looking forward to starting the back yoke now, and the second cone, although the sudden necessity of lugging around that much more yarn has had a noticeable impact on both the bulk and the heft of my knitting bag. >>Ooomph<<.

Sunday, October 11, 2009

Stornoway: 1st Cone Waning

Here's what I meant at the end of my previous post, when I spoke of being *almost* done with the 1st cone of yarn on Stornoway. I thought it might be fun to get a picture at this stage, not of the knitting but of the cone itself. See the cardboard starting to peek through in places?

The prospect of that empty cone is tantalizing to be sure. For one thing, given that the pattern called for 2 cones and a bit, I figure I'll be very near the half-way point when I run out of yarn the first time. But I've been frustrated in recent days by how slowly I appear to be making progress.

I knit and knit, and although I know I'm getting close, it's as though the goal keeps inching forward too, eluding my grasp. I've done so much small-gauge knitting in recent years that it seems totally normal. So much so, in fact, that I think I tend to lose sight of the implications of knitting a man's sweater on US size 1 (2.5 mm) needles.

No wonder every centimeter seems to take FOREVER!!

Ah well, back to work...