Sunday, July 25, 2010

Great New Yarn!

My dear friend and co-author, Pam Allen, has recently started her own online yarn company, Quince & Company. Clara Parkes said it best in Knitter’s Review: Pam's goal is to offer good, basic yarns in a ton of colors, sourced and spun in the U.S., priced reasonably, and backed with excellent pattern support. Those yarns requiring imported fibers (say, silk or cashmere) would be sourced as responsibly as possible. She currently has four yarns (sport, DK, worsted, and bulky), each available in 37 solid colors.

But that’s not all. Very soon Pam will unveil a sock-weight yarn, named Tern after one of the small birds native to Pam’s Maine home. Tern is a round 3-ply yarn of 75% soft U.S. wool and 25% silk added for strength, luster, and luxury. It is ideal for my current obsession for twisted and traveling stitch patterns. Pam sent me a trial skein of the yarn and I just finished the toe-up socks shown here. The pattern and yarn will be available at very soon!

Thursday, July 15, 2010

My Top Five Knitting Tips

I realized that I haven’t posted anything significant about knitting lately so today I’m giving you five of my favorite knitting tips.
1.     When working with yarn that is at least 75% wool, I join a new ball by splicing the ends together. This is particularly fun to do in front of the uninitiated. Simply feather the ends of the old and new yarn, put both in your mouth to get them nice and wet (saliva is a must for this part—clean water doesn’t have the right enzymes or whatever is needed to make it work), then overlap the ends about 1” in the palm of one hand and rub your palms together vigorously until the two ends felt together. The overlapped section should be close to the same diameter of the original yarn because it has been compressed.
2.     I have always knitted tighter than I purled. This causes unsightly “rowing out” in stockinette stitch worked in rows. For a while, I avoided working stockinette stitch in rows. Then I discovered that if I used a smaller needle for the purl rows, my purl stitches were the same size as my knit stitches. Now I routinely work stockinette in rows with two needle sizes—say a size 6 for knit rows and a size 5 for purl rows.
3.     I use a set of Boye interchangeable needles so that I can use a different size needle tip on each end of the cable when I knit stockinette in rows. Some years ago, I discovered that if I kept the smaller needle tip on the left end of the cable, it was much easier to work in the round. The stitches are made to gauge on the right needle tip, then they slide easier around the cable and onto the smaller left needle tip to be worked on the next round. Because the left tip is smaller, it’s also easier to manipulate the stitches for lace or cables!
4.     To ensure two pieces of knitting are the same length (such as the front and back a sweater, two fronts of a cardigan, or the legs or feet of two socks), I always count rows. Knitting stretches and it’s all too easy to be a few rows off when measuring length. If the pieces are the same number of rows, they will be the same length (as long as they are worked in the same stitch pattern with the same needles, of course). This makes it so much easier to sew seams.
5.     When counting rows of knitting, whenever possible I count purl ridges instead of individual stitches. I like to turn the work over, pull a little on the length of the knitting, then work my thumb up the knitting, counting two purl ridges at a time. It’s much easier on the eyes than trying to focus on one stitch at a time.

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Feeling Clever

Since buying a spindle at the Estes Wool Market last month, I’ve spent much more time spindle spinning than knitting. In fact, this may be the longest stretch I’ve ever gone without knitting. Instead, I’ve been spinning fleece that my cyber friend Anne from Reading, Pennsylvania, sent me, as well as fleece I bought at the Wool Market. Not knowing how to ply on a spindle, I just keep spinning more and more singles.

Now I confess to a bit of OCD on my part—I decided to take Maggie Casey’s Beginning Spinning class again this month. I figured that much of what she said the first time went over my head, some because I didn’t realize it was important at the time and some because I was concentrating so intently on what I was doing that I, well, didn’t pay attention. An important part of the class is that students take home a different wheel each week. This is an ingenious way to get students to choose a favorite to buy. Part of my incentive for retaking the class was that I’d have a wheel to ply all of those singles. So instead of spinning new fleece, I spent most of Friday plying all the singles I had accumulated.

Finally, it was time to knit! I ended up with 165 two-ply yards from 2 ounces of red/blue/purple dyed fleece I bought at the Wool Market. I knitted a swatch to determine that I liked it at 6 stitches/inch on size 4 needles. Based on The Knitter’s Handy Guide to Yarn Requirements, I knew I had enough yarn to knit a pair of fingerless mitts. I then followed the mitten instructions in The Knitter’s Handy Book of Patterns. I worked the cuff, back of hand, and top edging in a k3, p1 rib in which I slipped the center stitch of the k3 column every other round to make a raised rib pattern that wouldn’t interfere with the beauty of the yarn. I worked the back-of-hand pattern on a little more than half of the stitches so that it would completely cover the back of the hand when worn.

What a joy it was to knit with my own yarn! I had been advised that handspun yarn had more life than store-bought. No kidding! The yarn had the most amazing “boing” as it formed stitches—I think each stitch had a life of its own (maybe I put a little too much twist in the yarn?).

Next up: a shawl from the 257 yards of yarn I spun from 8 ounces of fleece that Anne from Reading PA gave me! (Perhaps I'm entering my red phase.)

Wednesday, July 7, 2010

Walking Aids

My sister and brother-in-law came to visit for the last week. They live in Nashville, Tennessee, and are always eager to escape the southern heat and humidity. Happily, we’re having a cool spell here and the high temps have been in the low 60s. My brother-in-law “Bob” has Parkinson’s disease and uses a walker to get around. When it gets cold, he needs to wear socks, but socks can be slippery on wood, tile, or linoleum floors. Bob has tried many types of no-skid socks but he complains that none are as comfortable as the socks I’ve knitted him over the years. 
This year, I bought a pair of leather soles for making mukluks at my local yarn store, then sewed them to the bottom of a pair of his handknitted socks. I made the socks for him back in 1994 when Nancy Bush’s Folk Socks book came out (these are the Ukrainian Socks; he chose the pattern). Bob is delighted—the socks are comfortable, he doesn’t slip, and we’re all a little more secure in his ability to move about. I encourage you to do something similar if there is a walker-dependant person in your life.
I had planned to wash these while they were here, but they were always on his feet (and I forgot). I can see I’ll have to make another pair so these can get washed!