Monday, August 17, 2009

P.S. re Stained Glass Beret

Although at first I had used the convex side of the plate to put pressure on the crown and stretch it into a perfect circle, I then flipped the plate over part way through the drying process to help shape the lower portions of the beret as well. This stratagem seems to have worked out nicely.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Stained Glass Beret

Hooray!! The stained glass beret is done. It was a quick & easy knit. I found the pattern extremely well-written & easy to follow. This is such a clever & elegant design, the way the fan shapes fit together to create the stained glass "rose window" effect...

Of course, with all the color changes, there were approximately 10,000 loose ends to weave in before felting. You cannot quite get away with weaving them all as you go either, because the way the fans are constructed in interlacing rounds requires leaving an open loop at the tip of each fan that cannot be tightened & tied down until 2 rounds later, but I strongly recommend taking care of them ASAP (as I did) rather than saving them all for the very end. Fortunately, once you get them into place, the felting process really helps hold them there.

Here are two photos: one (on the left) taken before felting, where you can still see the stitch definition, and the other (on the right) taken after felting while the piece was drying. Click on either one to get a closer look. I suppose it almost goes without saying, but the Lamb's Pride yarn felted *beautifully*. And I like my color scheme even better in the final felted version than when I laid out all the yarns side-by-side.

As I mentioned in my previous post on the subject, the pattern calls for a dinner plate to be inserted after felting to help ensure that the beret will dry in the correct shape. I knew instinctively which of our various china patterns would turn out to be the right size, but it took a bit of effort when the time came to get the object properly situated. I felt a little silly for a moment there, if truth be told, until I had won the wrestling match, and then my self-consciousness suddenly turned to instant triumph. To my delight, the "crown" of the beret immediately stretched into a perfect circle, and I believe the fact that the rim around the plate makes it slightly convex rather than strictly flat means that the finished object will more easily fit onto my head, which, thankfully, is also not flat on top. ;-)

Saturday, August 15, 2009

*Almost* the End of Summer

Notice the date? It's inevitable: school will be cranking itself into high gear again very soon. The new crop of first-years will arrive for their orientation on the 30th of this month, and our fall classes will start on September 7th, while the rest of the country celebrates Labor Day. That may seem a bit out of line, but remember Tevya & Co. singing about "Tradition"? It's always been the way of things here for the term to begin on the first Monday in September. The practice actually pre-dates the existence of a Labor Day holiday, and so local custom trumps the federal mandate. Every time. Funny, that...

Anyway, more organizational and planning emails are appearing in my campus account every day now. And although the summer has been a splendid respite from all of that for a while, as long as it lasted, I find my thoughts turning to academic pursuits once again with increasing urgency — which means that this blog, and the needlework activity by which it is fed, will naturally have to slow down to make room for things like reading assignments, lecture preparation, tests, student papers, etc.

But that said, there are still a few project goals that I would very much like to reach before the students return.

For instance, what I have been calling the "Great Guernsey Adventure" continues unabated. Eriskay is still waiting in the wings, but we have been exchanging glances lately, especially because I am eager to show off the *lefty* Channel Island Cast-On, which I recently learned. But I have been telling myself that I can't stand to have both Guernsey projects on the needles at the same time unless they are at different stages of their development. Otherwise I won't know which way to turn!! So my self-imposed rule has been that Stornoway must be done up to the armhole gussets, where I will divide the front & back (& stop working in-the-round), before Eriskay can commence.

It is happy news, then, that I have been making steady progress with Stornoway. Such lovely, simple, geometric patterns!! They are easy to memorize and very satisfying to knit, especially because the 5-ply guernsey wool really makes them visually "pop", as the saying goes, without being ostentatious. Yet this is also unmistakably a sturdy, functional garment and not just a show-piece. I *LOVE* the idea that it can stand up to heavy use, and is meant to be worn. It is a fabric closely tied to life and work and weather, where man meets nature and is unafraid to face the elements. So here now is Stornoway, with 75 rows of the body complete. That's 9 3/4" of the 13" needed below the armhole gussets.

These photos got the color of the "Cedar" just about right. What a surprising beauty!! When my husband first picked it out, if truth be told, I was concerned that it might look dull, but that changed once I saw the cones as opposed to the snippet on the color card, and especially when I actually started working with it and seeing the knitted fabric emerge. It's far more green than gray, with remarkably rich undertones. I have been warming to it more and more all the time, and by now it has completely won me over.

In the picture on the left, you can see how much (or rather, how *little*) remains from the first cone of yarn, which will leave me a little bit shy of the half-way point when it is used up. The picture on the right shows the center front (or back), with the patterns in their symmetrical ranks on either side. Click on either photo, as usual, to get a closer look. The sweater is taking shape nicely, but ribbing will still have to stretch somewhat more in order for the side "seams" to lie flat. I will probably take the plunge and acquire a proper wooly board when the time comes to block the guernseys. I have always wanted one, and this will be the perfect excuse, er, *opportunity* to make it happen.

Ah well, having said what I came here to say, I should really get back to my end-of-summer tasks. Duty calls...

Friday, August 14, 2009


Honestly, who *isn't* fascinated by the ethereal glow of sunlight through stained glass??

The image hyperlinked in my rhetorical question above comes, of course, from the Sainte-Chapelle in Paris. I will NEVER forget the moment (Was it really more than 20 years ago? Sheesh!) when I first stepped into that exquisite little Gothic treasure house and looked up. The play of light was quite literally breathtaking — and now my knitting can reflect some of that same saturation of color, thanks to designer Madeline Langan of Knitting Dreams. I have one project already going and another about to start, with a promise of more to come...

The first project is a lovely felted beret with a stained glass motif, done entirely with yarns from my stash (YIPPEE!!). I happened to have some Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride (85% wool, 15% mohair) left over from two long-ago sweaters. What fun to be putting those remnants to good use after all these years. It may not be exactly the same rainbow color scheme as the original, but I think that the intense jewel tones of magenta, mauve, periwinkle, royal blue, teal, and emerald green will produce an authentic stained glass effect. Click on the image to the right to take a closer look at the yarn.

Here is what the work-in-progress looks like so far. The beret is a quick knit in the round on US size 10 (6 mm) needles, moving upwards from the base toward the center of the crown. The stained glass pattern consists of brightly colored fan shapes made one at a time in six decreasing rounds, each outlined in black. I have just started the third round of fans (in periwinkle), and I am very excited about how it looks so far. Click on the image to the right for a larger view.

This is a great pattern, well-written and easy to follow. I expect to finish the beret in fairly short order. The instructions call for a dinner plate to be inserted into the crown after felting to help it dry in the correct shape. That part should be particularly fun!! I can't wait to have a nice warm felted hat this winter, and if all goes well, I should be able to make one or two more of these as Christmas presents.

The second project meanwhile is going to take a lot longer, especially in the planning stages but also to knit, simply because it will be a larger piece. It is the Bar Harbor Shell Bag.

This beauty — and the potential for others like it — has been on my mind for most of the summer. After a *LOT* of shopping around on-line, I ordered a total of eight skeins of Noro Kureyon in six different shades (#40, #163 x2, #219, #220, #240, #250 x2), mostly from Paradise Fibers, but also from Yarnela and The Knitting Garden. The pattern calls for only 5 or 6 skeins, but I really wanted a wide range of colors (especially reds, greens, blues, pinks, and purples) with a minimum of waste. As always, click on the image to take a closer look.

Thanks to the vagaries of the postal service, it took two or three weeks for everything that I ordered to arrive, but now that all the skeins are finally here, I will soon start dissecting them and organizing the various pieces by color into their proper families, so that I can pick and choose exactly the right shades. I definitely have enough material for more than one project, but my plan is to knit one bag first, and then see what I have left. Then I can easily order more yarn in the colors required for a second bag.

There are so many intriguing possibilities here... For instance, I thought about arranging the colors at random (as the designer suggests for her Stained Glass Fan Bag), but for this first adventure, I think I will put them in rows, perhaps also imitating the alternation between dark-to-light and light-to-dark that I have always been so fond of in this beloved crocheted afghan that I finished in the 8th grade. The original pattern is long gone, I'm afraid, but it came from a women's magazine sold at the grocery store. One of these days I may get around to reproducing it, but for now all I have is the finished object, which has been a favorite of mine for decades.

The possibilities for drawing needlework inspiration from the world of stained glass are limitless, and I fully intend to enjoy myself here. No deadlines or time-pressure, or worrying about what anyone else will think, just a wishing-well of gorgeous color that I can dip into and explore ad libitum. EXACTLY the sort of escapist pleasure, in other words, that a stressed out professor will undoubtedly need from time to time when the new semester gets into full swing and everything starts happening all at once. :-)

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

Winding Roses

I'll keep this one short & sweet, just to say that I took advantage of a knitting circle meeting at Barnes & Noble in Louisville last night to wind the hank of Aurora Whisper "Roses" in a feline-free environment.

It was delightful. Not only did I *NOT* have to worry (for once) about our youngest cat precipitously launching herself at the swift from across the room (honestly, I've seen her do it!!), but I enjoyed having people to talk to while I did so too, because the 1250 m skein went on & on. And on. That's 1362 yards!!

Here is what it looks like now, with the shades of rich, dreamy color all intermingled (click on the photo for a larger view). The yarn felt incredibly soft running through my fingers as well. I think I'm in love...

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

New Lovelies

There has been a real explosion of interest in lace knitting in recent years — admittedly nothing on the scale of the "sock supernova" (ka-BOOM!!), but dramatic all the same — and it has inspired spinners and dyers to come up with all sorts of delicious new fine-gauge yarns. It's a shopper's paradise out there, and a frugal spouse's worst nightmare.

I try to avoid indiscriminate purchases, but I do love to browse my favorite on-line yarn stores, & some beauties are simply *irresistible*, like these two new acquisitions. Both are hand-painted merino wool in lace-weight, and deliciously soft.

The first is another treasure from the YarnMarket Impressionist Collection, the same place where I found the Spring Bouquet for my entrelac turtleneck (completed earlier this summer and blogged quite extensively). This latest one is Zazu from Twisted Sisters, in a colorway called "Paris Rain," as inspired by the 1877 painting "Paris Street; Rainy Day" by Gustave Caillebotte. Note the image of the painting on the label to the right, and of course you can click on either photo for a closer look.

I specifically chose this yarn to blend with the colors from the plaid lining of my warmest winter coat: green & blue on a tan background. The shades in the yarn change fairly dramatically depending on the lighting. Sometimes the beige and tan seem to dominate, sometimes the green and teal blue. I am going to make the Ostrich Plumes Stole by KnitSpot designer Anne Hanson, and I have chosen some lovely round beads and elongated megatamas from EarthFaire to embellish it at least at the two ends if not throughout. A beaded ostritch in the Paris Rain, perhaps? Stranger things have happened, I suppose.

I've never knitted with beads before, but they fascinate me. I've now ordered a variety of shapes & sizes, and you're going to see a lot more beaded lace from me in coming months.

The second yarn literally took my breath away when I saw a photo on the web, and believe me, it's even more stunning in person...

It's called Whisper from Aurora in the "Roses" colorway. They create the different shades using a single dye, simply by varying the degree of color saturation. Every skein is unique, and the specific dye will not be repeated. That's why I knew the minute I saw it that I had to act fast. I requested this particular skein of the three that Earthfaire had in stock (all three are now gone), and since I happened to be first in line, I was able to take my pick. I reminds me of an English tea rose in full bloom, glowing in the morning sunshine.

It's going to be an adventure just winding this sumptuous hank (1250 meters!!), but then I think I've found the perfect pattern. It's called "Jenn's Rose Trellis Stole" by Tina Kroshl and is available for free to members of the "Yarnfeather’s KAL" Yahoo Group). The design features a central panel that is mostly plain knitting with a lovely rose-trellis frame. I should have plenty of yarn, even with the addition of a dainty lace edging, and I think the pattern will be just right to showcase the shifting colors rather than competing with them. >> Yum. <<

Tuesday, August 4, 2009

Knit Your Own School Supplies!!

As I've mentioned in this blog before, I was obviously destined for academia from a very young age. One of the ways that we could always tell was the joyous excitement and anticipation with which I eagerly awaited the start of school every fall. August for me was all about books and SCHOOL SUPPLIES. I would shop for notebooks and folders and dividers and organizers the way other girls shopped for clothes. Not that I didn't enjoy clothes shopping too, in moderation, but I spent *hours* at the local stationary store — the real old-fashioned kind, a throwback to the bygone era before mega-office-supply chains (& alas now long out of business) — contemplating all the fascinating options and designing just the right scheme to fit my classes for the coming year. A shiny new notebook holds so much promise...

And the fascination never really wore off either. All these years later I still have a "thing" about notebooks and pads and binders, etc. I try to be careful, but it's like yarn: I have a stash (two of them, really, between home & the office), and I'm always on the lookout for new treasures to add to my collection.

Two years ago, knowing all this, my mother bought me a luxurious red leather folio from Levenger as a birthday present. It's specifically designed for left-handed people & immediately became a prized possession. In order to protect it from wear & tear while keeping it in daily use, I made a fabric envelope to carry it in. That worked OK but felt flimsy, so a few days ago I got the idea into my head of knitting and *felting* a better alternative with some wool from my stash.

It was sort of a mad experiment, but I had such good luck with lightly felting those sweaters earlier this summer that I was feeling adventurous. Here's the result...

I borrowed a simple mosaic pattern from square #18 of Barbara Walker's Learn to Knit Afghan, a book which happens to be lying around here lately because my husband has been working his way through it. My original plan was to knit the whole thing in one piece, felt it, fold it into a simple envelope, & sew up the sides. I even did a test swatch to plan for X-amount of shrinkage. But you know what they say about the best-laid plans of mice & Miriams...

I followed what I thought was the same felting procedure with the piece itself, but the real thing shrank a LOT more than the test swatch had done. Grrrr.... Irritating!! With some effort I managed to stretch it out to the right width, but that only made it lose more length, of course, & when it dried it was obviously too short to cover the intended object. Fortunately, I had plenty of extra yarn available, which meant that I could quickly fashion a rectangular extension that could be attached to the original piece, and gussets for the sides as well. I felted the new pieces separately (obviously) and blocked them to match the original, and then eventually sewed the whole thing together, with a wooden toggle button left over from an old coat sweater. I *LOVE* it!!

The seam across the front is almost invisible. Indeed to me it almost looks like a deliberate decorative detail (3 D's = alliteration can be fun!!). And best of all, more or less by sheer dumb luck (the ancient Greek word is tyche) the colors match both the red leather folio and the dark teal green of my favorite messenger bag.