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...

Saturday, October 10, 2009

Stornoway Neckline: Running the #'s

As you can see from this photo, the original neckline for the men's Stornoway design is fairly deep and wide, with a loose mock-turtleneck collar. But my husband would prefer more of a traditional crewneck, like Eriskay (the ladies' pattern that I've chosen for myself). A while ago I posted a query about neckline mods on a couple of Ravelry forums and was rewarded with some helpful suggestions, including one as simple as folding over the original collar and sewing it down to form a rolled neckband. A number of Ravelers did just that and have posted some lovely pictures. It would certainly be a no-brainer!! But I still think the intended recipient for my handiwork would be more comfortable with a slightly shallower and narrower neckline. Nothing drastic, just a minor adjustment...

I've been mulling over various possibilities for the last couple of weeks while working on the front yoke. Now that I've got about 6" above the gussets (out of 7" called for in the original design), the time is fast approaching when I must make a decision about what to do with the collar. So today I finally ran the numbers to see if I could find a way to achieve the desired results with a minimum of fuss. Because of the designer's characteristic attention to detail, especially when it comes to the nuances of shaping, the math looks A LOT more complicated on paper than the knitting will be in practice. That's why so many people have chosen the expedient of folding over the collar without changing the neckline!! But I think I managed to figure it out.

I'm going to add 3/4" to the front yoke below the neckline and then keep the number of center front stitches the same, while reducing the number of decrease rows (& decrease stitches) on either side of the neck. That way the neckline can be raised and narrowed just a bit, without changing the overall height of the yoke from gusset to shoulder. A narrower neckline means slightly wider shoulders, but I can easily lengthen the shoulder straps to absorb a few extra stitches on either side. For the neckband itself, I will already have fewer center back stitches to match the smaller number of decreases on the sides of the front neck, and from there it will only be a matter of picking up fewer stitches along the (somewhat reduced) side front edges. Fortunately, the neckband is just a simple k2, p2 rib (no baby cables or anything): I need only ensure that I come out with a multiple of 4 stitches.


P.S. This post has no new pictures of my Stornoway, because I'm waiting to finish the first cone of the Cedar yarn before the next photo-op. Just stay tuned. It will make a nice milestone, and we're getting close...

Wednesday, October 7, 2009

Introducing the "Christmas 2010 Project": A Gallery

It's been almost two months now since my big birthday splurge back in August ("Thanks, mom!"), and since then I have spent little or no money on knitting supplies. It took some effort to slam on the breaks, especially after a period of relative freedom over the summer, but lately I have been enjoying the virtuous feeling that comes from using and appreciating what you've already got. Besides, with the semester now in full swing (thereby limiting the hours available for knitting) and many of my summer yarn purchases still backed up in the queue, there's certainly more than enough to be getting on with, as the saying goes.

Things were going reasonably well, I thought, until last week witnessed an unusual and DANGEROUS confluence of forces in my universe. Not only did EarthFaire have a big one-day yarn sale (fasten your seatbelts!!), but right at the same time two different KnitPicks lace yarns that I had been surreptitiously eyeing from a distance also suddenly went on closeout.

It hit me all at once, and I went a little gonzo. I freely admit it. OK, maybe more than a little. It was not a frugal week, at least not in the short term.

On the bright side, however, with a view toward what the French Annaliste historians would call the longue durée, I now have supplies to produce beaded lace objects for EVERY FEMALE in the immediate family. That includes my mother and both of my brothers' wives, plus my mother-in-law and my husband's sister and sister-in-law. I can now add handmade luster and luxury to the lives of *6* different women who are near & dear to me, at no more cost per person, on average, than we typically end up spending at the department stores in any given year.

In fact, I just got *7* new lace yarns (including one that's just for me), and many of them in sufficient quantities to make more than one item. So we're looking at a plethora of projects and a PILE of presents when all is said and done. Probably more than one year's worth of Christmas gifts!! Most of the colorways already have beads to match as well, and I am working on filling in the gaps so that the pairings of fiber and "shiny things" can be complete.

These sudden acquisitions were so *terribly* exciting, and the possibilities have inspired my imagination to such an extent, that I took the (for me) unprecedented step of officially photographing and stashing this latest cache of lace yarn on Ravelry, along with the substantial leftovers of Gossamer CashSilk from my Wedding Ring and Princess shawls. It does make a handsome display, but I am still quite hesitant to document the rest of my motley yarn collection in detail. Then again, now that the camel's nose is under the tent-flap (as it were), I suppose the larger and/or more notable samples may yet find themselves destined for a photo-shoot of their own one of these days, if the mood strikes.

But I digress with this stash talk. Let's get back to my latest prizes... My husband is part Scottish on both sides of his family. He *hates* spending money unnecessarily, so we prudently took care of the bulk of our Christmas shopping for 2009 in the post-Christmas sales last year. No real call for holiday knitting at the moment!! But that's OK, because given the list of current WIP's and the depth of my already pre-existing queue, we're certainly talking about the Christmas of 2010 with all of this new yarn, if not even *2011*. I now know what I'll be knitting next summer, and beyond!! Here's some of what lies in store. As always, just click on any image to get a closer look.

In the midst of all this converse with the Ghost of Christmas Yet to Come, one of the EarthFaire yarns is for me alone and will probably get used up sooner rather than later. It's a single skein of Shibui Silk Cloud: an incredibly soft 60% kid mohair & 40% silk lace yarn from Japan in a colorway called "Ink" (i.e. pitch black). One skein gives me 330 yards, and I'm hoping that in addition to the Ice Queen by Rosemary Hill (Knitty, Winter 2007), I will have enough to eek out a small pair of beaded handwarmers or fingerless gloves to match — perhaps a variation on the Delicato Mitts by Anne Hanson of KnitSpot. I now have both silver-lined crystal AB 6/0 and silver-lined crystal (non-AB) 4 mm magatama beads on hand for just this sort of contingency. Either one will do, no doubt.

I am very eager to produce a few such small wearable *warm* beaded lace items now, before the weather starts turning genuinely cold. They will make me happy on an aesthetic level for one thing (by appealing to my inner diva!!), in addition to the practical business of keeping the chill at bay on my daily treks to & from campus. Since there were very few skeins of the SilkCloud available to begin with — and for several weeks I'd been watching the supply slowly dwindle — when the sale happened I was delighted to grab what turned out to be the very last one in the color that I wanted.

Now for the gifts. See what wonders Herr Drosselmeyer brings... We begin with two colorways of Eos (50% merino wool, 50% tussah silk) from The Unique Sheep. Each skein contains 630 yards, so there's lots of potential here for projects large and small. I imagine cozy neck-warmers like Poinsettia or Spiralucious by Anne Hanson of KnitSPot or Pretty Thing by Stephanie Pearl-McPhee (a.k.a. the Yarn Harlot), and delicate lace scarves like Protopopov by Susan Pandorf, Angel Pearls by Sivia Harding or Canterbury Bells by Laura Patternson, among others. In fact I've been collecting suitable patterns on Ravelry for a while, with Christmas in mind, and I always have my eye out for new ones to add to the portfolio.

The first Eos colorway is called Deep Forest. I got just one skein, thinking primarily of a particular sister-in-law who favors such colors, and I think I will probably pair it with some shiny beads in a pale gold (like these), although the same celery-lined crystal AB that I am using for the Parisian Ostrich would doubtless also suit. I will want a pattern with a Bohemian feel, maybe something like Faina's Scarf by Faina Letoutchaia.

The second Eos colorway is called "Aurora Borealis." There's a charming story behind the name, because Ellen of EarthFaire actually sent a photo of the Northern Lights as inspiration for the artist who hand-paints this yarn. I was blown away by the rich combination of jewel tones in the end result: pale blue, dark turquoise, navy, emerald green, charcoal gray. Beads seem almost superfluous here, given the intensity of the yarn, although something in a hematite color (like these) or the right blue (like these or maybe these) might add an enchanting glow.

I bought a whopping *four* skeins (2520 yards) of this yarn, certainly enough for a major project if the fancy takes me, or perhaps a series of smaller ones. To be honest, I would probably have succumbed to this beauty even at full price, but when things like this go on sale, resistance is futile!!

Finally among the EarthFaire offerings, I have one sister-in-law who is allergic to wool and cannot have it next to her skin. She is an artist with an eye for striking colors and textures, and I have wanted for a while to come up with a suitable lace project to make for her, but I had considerable trouble finding the right yarn. Even cashmere is off-limits. >sigh<

Imagine my delight, then, to discover this lovely Organic Lace-Weight Cotton from Peru: Eco Butterfly Pakucho Lace in the sandy beige colorway known as "Vicuna." So smooth and soft to the touch, it will make beautiful lace. I bought two skeins of 500 yards each. And the beads that I found to go with it are simply STUNNING: garnet-lined transparent light topaz AB magatamas in two sizes (4 mm and 4 x 7 mm). Iridescent shades of magenta and gold and blue and green shine happily on a sunny golden background. I strongly recommend clicking on the photo to see the bead colors close-up.

The pattern that I have in mind for this combination is another of Susan Pandorf's luscious designs: Mehndi. It can be made as either a scarf or a stole, and I have enough yarn for the larger version. Because the pattern does not call for beads, figuring out where to place them will be half the fun. I got one container of each size to start, but I will definitely want to order more before they sell out, so that I can make something truly ornate and extra special.

*Phew*. That EarthFaire order would be enough by itself to keep me busy for a LONG TIME.

But wait!! There's more...

Now here's the first of the KnitPicks yarns: my old favorite Shimmer (70% baby alpaca, 30% silk) in the colorway known as "Lilac Dream." I bought just one skein (440 yards) specifically to pair with the silver-lined smoky amethyst AB 8/0 beads that I had acquired earlier. The color-match is *perfect*, with exquisite shades of lavender ranging from pale to medium intensity. I imagine something long and supple that can be wrapped around the neck more than once and still dangle, with a generous splash of beads at either end (e.g. the Icicle Scarf by Susan Pandorf). The yarn colorway has been marked "Last Chance": once it sells out, it won't be coming back.

This one here is also Shimmer, but in a brand new colorway called "Bayou." It arrived just recently and was not on sale, but the rich blend of chocolate brown, teal blue, and emerald green appealed to me so much that I bought four skeins (1760 yards) right away, in order to be sure that I got enough to stash away while supplies last. Several of the ladies on my list favor earth-tones, so this will be just the ticket for them, especially when paired with a rich brown bead like silver-lined root beer (the 8/0 size is currently sold out at EarthFaire, but I have been assured that they will soon be back in stock). Imagine Anne Hanson's woodsy Elm Row design in this yarn with beads running up & down the edges and all along the wavy vertical lines between the leaf motifs. New Haven, CT (where my dad taught for many years and where I went to college, along with my husband, both his siblings, and one sister-in-law too) is known as the Elm City, so there is some appropriate symbolism .

Last but not least, there's this delightful yarn, which was also a closeout: Shadow Kettle-Dyed in the colorway known as "Wilderness Kettle." It's a buttery soft 100% merino wool in a deep blue-green, with the subtle shading produced by the kettle-dying process. I chose it specifically to go with one or both of the silver-lined teal bead types that I had purchased earlier: one in size 6/0 with a matte finish and the other in size 8/0 with a shiny transparent finish. Both of them match!! I'm not sure exactly what combination of patterns and bead-work I will end up pursuing, but I got two skeins (880 yards), and whatever happens the prospects are pleasing, to say the least.

Oh! And while I was at it, placing the EarthFaire order, I also acquired the additional beads needed to complete my Parisian Ostrich and Magic Carpet Ride stoles, both of which have been lying fallow for several weeks pending such supplements.

Mmmm. Feel free to sing along with me, if you'd like: "Happiness is....

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Peggy Tudor: Another (minor) Milestone

It took a while, I must admit, but I have finally finished the fourth piece of my Peggy Tudor sweater. This is the left front, which matches the previous piece (i.e. the right back) for all patterns & shaping except at the neck/shoulder. In the process of knitting this piece, I actually discovered a minor flaw in the armhole shaping on the previous one, which I decided to go back & fix, since it would only take a couple of extra hours. It's such a big project overall that I knew the tiny delay would hardly matter. After ripping back, I ended up knitting the two pieces in tandem for several inches, using one circular needle of adequate length to hold them both. The results were very gratifying. Indeed this approach made it so easy to ensure that the two pieces actually matched row-for-row that I have decided to work the next two (i.e. the left back & right front) together from the start. It will take twice as long to finish them both that way, but then I'll be done with the four largest pieces (i.e. most of the body) & ready to start on the sides of the sleeves.

Here are the customary photos of the latest work, including one of the new piece by itself and another that shows it side-by-side with the now corrected previous segment. As always, click on either one for a larger view. Depending on your browser settings, it may take an extra click or two to zoom in all the way.

One interesting feature of the design that is not entirely obvious from the photo spread in the Tudor Roses book (splendid as that is) is the special pattern at the shoulder seam of the side front, consisting of three horizontal rows of knots (or knitted beads or, I suppose, even nupps) on a stockinette background, alternating with bands of reverse garter stitch. The knots are a little hard to see in this picture, but after blocking I think they will stand out nicely. Although this sweater is obviously designed to be knitted in many pieces and eventually sewn together, this pattern detail masking the shoulder seam reminds me somewhat of the traditional "shoulder straps" seen in fishermen's guernseys such as Stornoway, which are knitted in-the-round.

I think I have said it before, perhaps even more than once already, but it deserves to be repeated and emphasized: this is an *astonishingly* intricate design. Such painstaking attention to detail!! The placement of every stitch has been meticulously arranged, and NOTHING in the pattern happens by accident or even by default. I continue to be blown away by the degree of technical control displayed here over & over again.

I should also add that the NatureSpun sport-weight yarn is like a dream come true. Its softness and drape will make for an eminently wearable sweater when all is said and done — not to mention the snuggly warmth of 100% wool — and yet the stitch definition is crisp and clean, leaving nothing to be desired. I would whole-heartedly recommend this yarn choice to anyone searching for an alternative to the 5-ply guernsey wool.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

A Ravelry Moment

Those of you who have been reading this blog for a while may remember my Frejya sweater, which I am making in honor of the eldest of our three Maine Coone cats. I have been working on it in fits and starts for a long time, mostly turning to it at interludes between other projects. At the moment I am almost through with the embellishments for the front (using an eyelansh yarn in duplicate stitch to add long hair to the mohair intarsia pussycat), and I have also completed several inches of knitting for the back. My goal is to have it all finished and ready to wear by the end of next summer.

The pattern comes from the book pictured here: Cat Knits by Melinda Coss (St. Martin's Press, c. 1988), a charming collection of feline-inspired sweater designs which I purchased in college at my beloved LYS (now long out of business).

Well... The other day on Ravelry, I got a comment on my Frejya sweater FROM THE DESIGNER HERSELF, complimenting me on my work and saying that it looks like her own "late, great Gingypop," i.e. the orange cat after whom she named the original pattern ("Gingypop Tweed Raglan Sweater").

What a beautiful surprise!! I felt elated to receive such high praise out of the blue, especially when I checked her profile and discovered that Melinda Coss has left the design business and is currently living in France: not only are we talking about a design from over 20 years ago, but it's an international connection as well. I was moved almost to tears to hear her speak in such warm, nostalgic tones about her own beloved pet. Despite the distance in time & geography, I recognized the sentiment immediately, since my husband & I certainly dote on our animals. It had always been precisely that love that shone through in the design and that convinced me (by identifying myself with the point of view of the pattern's creator) to make the sweater to honor our dear Frejya. I had always known that only a real Cat Person could have conceived of the sweaters in that book, but back in the days before the Internet, the chances of ever meeting or making contact with the designer were vanishingly small. You simply got inspired and enjoyed the project in your own little bubble of friends & family.

And for the designer in turn, I can only imagine that the situation was even more isolating: you labored long & hard to produce your best creative work, and if you were lucky you got it published & sent out into the wide world. But after that, beyond the vague hope that other people might be inspired by your work, and the disconnected sense that book sales must equal approval, how could you ever really KNOW what had become of your designs??

This is *exactly* the sort of magic that Ravelry brings off effortlessly. A designer need only run a quick search for his/her name, and suddenly a whole world-wide gallery of projects appears. The inspiration is real and tangible. Knowing this, I replied immediately in the warmest possible terms. I have not yet heard back, but at least there was that moment of sympathy and mutual admiration.

Thank you, Ravelry.