Tuesday, April 5, 2011

Continuum Legwarmers

Stress points in the space-time continuinuinuum... — Ponder Stibbons, Department of High-Energy Magic, Unseen University
(from the novel The Last Continent, by Terry Pratchett, c. 1988)

The minute I saw Sivia Harding's Continuum legwarmers, featuring 100's of beads and an amazing Celtic cable design, they went right to the top of my queue for Christmas break. I thought of them as my Christmas gift to myself. Our house gets decidedly chilly in the winter, you see, and for the sake of the long afternoons and evenings that I often spend sitting still while struggling to stay warm, I sought to maximize the coziness factor by using an alpaca yarn (Knit Picks Andean Treasure). I paired the rich charcoal gray color called Mystery Heather with 6/0 beads in Metallic Amethyst Gunmetal. The beads glow with a quiet and distinctly purple intensity that marks a delightful contrast with the fuzzy warmth of the yarn. It was a match made in heaven (see left, and click for a closer view).

The ~450 beads for each warmer had to be strung in advance, which got interesting as I went along, because each skein of the yarn contained only 110 yards. I used six skeins in all, and although I always tried to err on the side of stringing too many beads at any given time, rather than too few, inevitably there were a lot leftover whenever I changed skeins, so I ended up re-stringing some of them several times. It felt like many more than 1,000 beads!!

But the biggest challenge that I faced with this project was not the beads: it was the fit. The original design called for 100% wool yarn, with a broad flare toward the bottom to accommodate a pant leg and/or boot. See the example shown in white on the left here. Of course alpaca fiber, though warmer by weight than wool, has little trace of the elasticity and springiness for which sheep fleece is justly famous, so I knew I would probably end up altering the pattern somewhat to help the legwarmers stay up. But I was still surprised by just how much the fabric wanted to stretch out and hang loose around my ankles. To make the fabric more pliable, I decided to move up a needle size to a US size 6 (4.0 mm), which naturally also enhanced the floppiness of the bell-bottom.

In fact, after some experimentation, I ended up reworking the lower half of each warmer to remove the bell-bottom increases altogether. It took several weeks to complete the alterations. The end result fits a lot more snugly, although the ankle still flares out to some extent. I still wouldn't trust them to stay up either, if I need to walk or move around very much, and especially if I wear them over any kind of slippery fabric.

I used Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Slip-Knot Cast-On for this project again, as I had first done with Rivendell, and then I also taught myself the corresponding Surprisingly Stretchy Bind Off, which has since proven its usefulness time and time again. It is so much fun to experiment with new knitting techniques and expand one's repertoire.

The top two photos below show the upper portion of one warmer and the elaborate cable motif at the knee. Then there is a picture of the knitting in progress, followed by two full-length shots of the finished object: one as written from the first time around, with all the extra fabric, and the second as I revised the pattern to make the two ends match. The change in shape was really quite dramatic. As always, click on any of these images to take a closer look.

These elegant beaded legwarmers do a magnificent job of fending off the cold, and they look fantastic all the while, but I have to admit that they also tend to fall down at the slightest provocation. So I have concluded that they are best suited for times when I need extra warmth while staying put for extended periods, such as around the house or in the car. Fortunately, there are plenty of such times, when I can put them to good use. They perform beautifully under the right conditions. I have plans to make another pair in pure wool specifically for my walks to/from work, either with an even more heavily modified version of this design, or perhaps with another pattern entirely. Never a shortage of new knitting projects around here, no sirree...

Stornoway Photos

Somehow, in the midst of letting the blog lie fallow for so long, I managed not to post any pretty pictures here of my dear hubbly wearing his Stornoway guernsey. So here are two shots of him in the sweater, holding our beloved Wobbles. We rescued this astonishingly fluffy little tiger-cat in 2008, when she was a mere 18 hours old. She had to be bottle fed for the first several weeks, until she could start to eat solid food. Her name came from watching her learn to get around on her stumpy little legs. As always, click on either photo to take a closer look.

Rivendell Cowl

The parade of knitted objects from my blog-sabbatical continues...

One of the little indulgences that I allowed myself during the Christmas holiday was to knit Susan Pandorf's Rivendell cowl with the luxury yarn specified in the pattern. Muse from Twisted Fiber Art is a sport-weight blend of 50% merino wool and 50% silk, with a dreamy hand and a not-so-subtle sheen. I ordered a custom version of the long-striping "Evolution" colorway called Vintage. This colorway normally shifts from pale gray-green to burgundy and then to pink, but I asked for more of the dark wine color than usual, and for a tad less yellow in the green. What emerged was a lovely mixture of warm gray and burgundy, shading into pale pink. I had a devil of a time getting the colors to show up accurately in digital pictures, but the photo of the yarn (above right) is a fairly good approximation.

The pattern is another one of Susan's exquisite Tolkien-inspired lace designs, featuring interlocking archways, reminiscent of Elven architecture as shown in the LOTR movies, with twisted stitches to lend texture and depth to the fabric. It was a very easy knit that took only a few days, a brief span made all the more satisfying and enjoyable by the gradually shifting colors. I got to teach myself the left-handed version of Jeny's Surprisingly Stretchy Slip-Knot Cast-On, and could have kept knitting more or less indefinitely. But I stopped short of using up the entire skein, because I decided not to place the very palest shade of baby pink next to my face.

The knitted object proved even more difficult to photograph than the skein of yarn, but here are my two best shots, one taken part way through the knitting and the other during blocking. As always, click on either photo to see a larger version. But note that the finished object has less magenta in it and more petal pink than the photo shows. The actual colors are more like what you see in the skein of yarn. At any rate, I wear this cowl often, usually with a gray turtleneck underneath. It adds a marvelous splash of color that helps to cheer me up on those dreary winter days when I have to head into work and try to inspire my students.

Monday, April 4, 2011

Advent Calendar Scarf

Now without further ado, let's start the recap with a BIG personal favorite, in more ways than one... :-)

I basically kept up with the daily clues for unikatissima's Advent Calendar scarf all the way along. In fact, I even finished the main part of the knitting a day or two early (i.e. on Dec. 23rd), because the designer published the last several clues all at once for the benefit of those who might be traveling over the holidays, and so I went ahead and blitzed through them. But then I decided to embellish the piece with an applied edging all the way around, and that took a while. I had to order more yarn first, for one thing. Fortunately I did not have to worry about matching dye lots, though, since I was using natural (undyed) Peruvian Highland wool. The package arrived in about a week, and I managed to be back underway by New Year's Eve. I set a goal of completing the edging and blocking the scarf in time for Russian Christmas on Jan. 6th, the date celebrated by Western Christians as Epiphany, which also happens to be our wedding anniversary. :-)

I chose to do a slight variation on the "Doris Edging" from p. 74 of Sharon Miller's book Heirloom Knitting (see left, and click for a larger view), mainly because the framed diamonds seemed to harmonize nicely with the rest of the lace design. The 12-row repeat (= 6 attachments per edging point) turned out to be ideal for me, because by sheer dumb luck both the stitch count across the top & bottom (= 66) and the row-count along the sides of my augmented scarf/stole (= 294) came out as even multiples of 6. By squeezing the points at either end of each long side into half the usual space, then, I found that I could provide sufficient ease so that the corners would eventually lie flat.

I finished the knitting on Jan. 5th. It came out to 11 points across each of the short ends and 51 points down each long side (= 124 points in all).

This scarf is HUGE by anyone's standards. I decided to emphasize length over width when blocking it, and the only way to get it to fit on the bed was to fold it more or less in half horizontally and block a double layer. I did not stretch it as hard as I could, though, because I wanted the fabric to have some stretchiness and give to it. So the finished measurements are 20” wide x 104” long (i.e. 51 x 264 cm). It’s really more stole than scarf, I suppose, but in the dead of winter, I love having an extra-long scarf that I can wrap around my head & neck several times and still have plenty of yardage hanging at the front/back.

Here's a blocking photo (left), and a picture of me wearing the scarf (right), as I have done pretty much every day since its completion. My 2010 Advent Calendar project quickly became a beloved addition to my wardrobe, as well as a conversation piece. As always, click on either image to see a larger view.

I guess I would rather knit than blog about it, but still...YIKES!!

Greetings, dear readers. I am back. :-)

I have a LOT of catching up to do (= understatement of the year).

And I owe each and every one of you a sincere apology. There is no good excuse for letting the blog languish for as long as it has. I have been wrestling with a tough teaching schedule all semester, including bouts of fatigue and respiratory illness, but that's always true at this time of year. Welcome to life in academia. I guess the bottom line is that whenever I have managed to eek out any spare time lately, I have wanted to spend it knitting rather than maintaining a chronicle about knitting. I have managed to keep my project notes on Ravelry up to date, and to post pictures there and on Facebook as well. But no blog. I keep telling myself, "This weekend I will return. This weekend..." and then not quite getting around to it.

All of which ends today, with this post. I really really REALLY want to get back into the swing of things again. I have lots of exciting projects to talk about -- past, present, and future -- and the sooner I get caught up on the finished ones, the easier it will be to stay current with WIP's. So let's do this thing. Here and now.