Tuesday, March 16, 2010

Ravelympics After-the-Fact, Part II: Stained Glass Felted Bag

[[ Special thanks once again go out to zzwhitejd, the Raveler who holds the Creative Commons license for this lovely official Ravelympics 2010 banner and was gracious enough to allow others like me to use it free of charge, with appropriate attribution, of course. ]]

OK, it's time now for the second installment of my retrospective on the 2010 Ravelympics, which will deal with the major project that took up the lion's share of my time during the games: the stained glass felted bag that I tagged for Team Indiana ("Go, Hoosiers!!"). The stained glass theme should sound very familiar to long-time readers of my blog. For indeed my preparations for this project began last summer. I have had the raw materials sitting around here for months. So once again I seized upon the Ravelympics as an excuse to make progress on something that had been waiting in the wings for quite a while.

The pattern is the Bar Harbor Shell Bag by Madeline Langan, the same designer whose similar felted beret I have now made twice (see here and here). The yarn was a combination of Noro Kureyon worsted in a variety of different colors for the fan-shaped stained glass panels and Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride Worsted (85% lambswool, 15% mohair) for the black borders in between.

My goal for the Ravelympics was not to complete the entire project, because I knew that it would require elaborate finishing (handles, inserts, lining, pockets, etc.) that I would by no means want to rush. So instead I limited my ambitions to knitting the body of the bag, in order to have it ready for felting by the close of the games.

Baby steps first, then... Because the Ravelympics rules stipulated that it was OK to prepare materials in advance, I took advantage of that convenient loophole to carve up the eight skeins of Noro Kureyon into their component colors (see right, and click for a closer view). Then I could sort through what I had, take stock, and eventually come up with a workable color-scheme. I actually put my yarn scissors to good use during the Super Bowl (less than one week before the Olympics)!!

The end result of this rather time-consuming dissection process was a substantial pile of quart-sized ziplock bags, each full of little "single-serving" yarn bundles in a particular color (see left, and click for a closer view). Once I had all the various skein fragments separated, I grouped together all the usable shades of red/pink, purple, blue, and green. Naturally, there were sub-groups as well: red-purple vs. blue-purple, royal blue vs. turquoise, blue-green vs. yellow-green, etc.

Certain browns and muddy colors went right into the "ick/leftovers" category (shown in the bottom portion of the photo, left). But the latter comprised only one or two half-empty bags, which should stand as a testament to my careful shopping beforehand. Many Noro colorways, to my eyes at least, contain a super-abundance of rancid greens and browns that I emphatically did NOT want for this project. So I looked far afield and drew upon three different suppliers to achieve the desired balance of component colors in the final mix.

From a knitting standpoint, the bag is worked from the top down. It is built out of interlaced rounds of fan-shapes (6 per round) that are fashioned individually, a bit à la entrelac. The original design calls for 9 rounds of full-sized fans before the decreases toward the center at the bottom of the bag, but for the sake of the finished proportions I chose to do only 8 full rounds, based on comments and photos from other Ravelry users. Within that framework, my goal was to devise a color-scheme that would make the color-transitions as smooth as possible throughout, following a simple progression from red to purple to blue to green and back again. So based on the quantities that I had to hand, the rounds went as follows: first pink/red, then reddish purples, medium purples, and blue-purples respectively, followed by royal blues and turquoises, then teals, medium greens, and yellow-greens, before the decreases, which shaded quickly back from green to blue to purple to pink and red once more at the center bottom. I carefully saved enough of each major color to do the bottom at the end, and was thrilled to see it all work out more or less exactly the way I had planned, with suprisingly little waste.

All of which sounds fairly straightforward, right? So why did this project end up absorbing so much more of my Ravelympics time than I had anticipated?!! The answer is simple: I had to weave in all the @#$^%&!! *ENDS*.

To get the full impact of this inexorable reality, it is is important to be crystal clear about the arithmetic. For this is one of those situations in life where the numbers simply do not lie.

The original design called for 2 colors per fan, but when I got to work on the top round, I quickly realized that I needed *5* colors per fan to make the kind of seamless transitions that I had in mind. So, with 5 colors per fan and 6 fans per round and 8 rounds of fans in the body of the bag, plus the 5 rounds of shrinking fans in the decrease section with anywhere from 2 to 4 colors each, not to mention the black border on each fan and all the scattered places where it took more than one piece of yarn to complete a particular segment, by my best estimate the bag as a whole contains a total of *800-900* ends, each of which had to be dealt with individually, by hand, using a crochet hook and yarn scissors to ensure that nothing would show. I knew that the felting process would eventually hold them in place, but they all had to get into place first, before the finished piece could ever go into the washing machine.

Note: the photo above looks drastic enough, but it shows only the ends from the last two tiny decrease rounds at the center bottom of the bag, consisting of a mere 2-3 colors per fan. In other words, this was just the tail-end of the process. To imagine the effect in EACH of the *8* full-size rounds, you must multiply what you see above by TWO OR MORE.

On average, then, I ended up spending as much time weaving in the ends as I did on the knitting itself. That is not an exaggeration. Even going into the project with my eyes wide open, as it were, I frankly underestimated just how long it would take. Fortunately, at least I knew enough from my experience with the stained glass berets to make a rule of weaving as I went. I waited until each round of fans was complete, just in case there might have to be some minor adjustments made to balance out the color scheme (e.g. if I ran out of a particular shade sooner than expected), but once I was sure that the knitting was finished, I carefully wove in all the ends from that round before starting in on the next one. If I had not adhered to the same practice on every round, I am quite sure that I would never have finished the project. *NEVER*...

This turned out to be a massive undertaking, especially within the time-limit of the Olympic games. But by disciplining myself from the beginning to work on one row of fans after another, and with a big sprint to the finish-line during the closing ceremonies to complete the bottom of the bag, I managed to bind off the final stitches literally *5 minutes* before the official deadline (i.e. 2:55 AM EST on Sunday, February 28th).

What an ENORMOUS relief...

So, without further ado, here is the photo gallery for the WIP. It starts with the array of multi-colored yarn segments that always went along with this project (although they changed hues as the knitting progressed), and then charts my gradual progress from the first round of 6 separate red/pink fans down toward the bottom of the bag, which suitably forms the final image. All of these photos were taken before felting. If you look closely at the second-to-last one (which shows the finished inside after ALL the ends had been woven in), you will be able to spot the black border across the top of the bag, which made a nice finishing touch. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.

A day or two after the closing ceremonies, after catching up on some sleep, I double-checked that the last few loose ends had been neatly tucked away and then ceremoniously carted off my handiwork to the washing machine for the felting process. The knitting went into a zippered mesh laundry bag to protect the machine from excess fiber. Then, following the instructions, I filled the drum part way with hot water, added a small amount of detergent, and used two pairs of old jeans to aid in the agitation. Then I stood over the machine to monitor the felting process very closely, also adding extra minutes to the wash cycle as it went along. In the end, it took about 22 minutes to achieve the desired results. I skipped the spin cycle to avoid creasing, gave the bag a quick rinse in cold water, and then stretched it out over a popcorn can to dry. This last little detail came straight out of the pattern instructions. I was lucky enough to have an old popcorn can left over from the 1980's (a Christmas gift from my aunt & uncle when I was in grade school). Once I had the bag stretched over the can (upside down, of course), it was fun to watch gravity at work: first all the water soaked down toward the bottom edge, and then it slowly evaporated. It took several days for the piece to dry thoroughly.

As I had hoped, the felting was just enough to blend the colors nicely without obscuring the texture of the knitting. This last pair of photos was taken during the drying process. The first one shows the sides of the bag and the second one just the bottom.

Simply stunning, no?? I can sit and stare for hours on end at those delightfully muted yet vibrant colors...

Gloating aside, I am very gratified with how well this project has turned out, because all my hard work paid off. It's great to see some tangible results finally, after sitting around for so long trying to imagine what it would eventually look like. I recently acquired some lovely lilac lining fabric (note the splendid alliteration!!) that will put a very stylish touch on the finished product, and now I am trying to decide exactly what to do about the handles (i-cord, as in the original? a flat strip of ribbing, felted or un-felted? leather??). So it is by no means all over yet, and I am taking my time now that the pressure is off.

As a footnote, this bag already has its own little fan-club. Someone on Ravelry was kind enough to include it among the notable FO's on the Ravelympics 2010 forum, so it has already gotten more than 2 dozen "faves". I feel very confident that this will end up becoming an heirloom and a favorite project for show and tell.


  1. That is a beautiful bag and worth every last end that had to be woven in!

  2. WOW! Your bag is beautiful! Absolutely lovely!