Wednesday, November 30, 2011

My needle storage solution

Linda and I were talking this morning about circular needle storage and I showed her what I use: a monster-size (yes, that's the official term) Shimano Tackle Binder.

When Tom saw this, he immediately asked when I'd taken up fishing. Imagine his disappointment when I displayed my gazillion knitting needles.

Here's the official description of the product:
Organize your tackle in binder fashion. Includes eight heavy-duty poly bags with metal grommets, oversized non-corrosive zippers and box stitched strap handle. The Jumbo size comes with four mesh zippered pockets for additional storage. Constructed of 1200 Denier material. Two replacement bags included.
I ordered additional bags so I'd have one for every needle size. The sleeves are 8.5 x 11 so I printed numbers on regular printer paper and inserted them behind the needles to make it quick and easy to find my needles.

The only drawback is that I need to remember to put the needles back in the binder after a project. Too bad there's not a big Harry Potter magnet that would levitate prodigal knitting needles and then make them dance their way into my tackle binder. Now that would be a great solution to a real-world knitting problem.

The Shimano Tackle Binder is available in most fishing or sport stores or from Amazon.

Monday, November 28, 2011

My Ruffled Hybrid

I whipped up a Ruffled Hybrid this weekend. I can't think of another way to describe it because it's a cross between a scarf and a shawl and a cowl. I'm still not exactly sure how to wear it.

I fell in love with this picture of  Laura Chau's Just Enough Ruffles. It looks soft and snuggly and feminine and maybe it would dress up a plain outfit? I could accompany it with pearls perhaps? Black slacks and sweater as the chocolate cake and the ruffles as the frosting? Maybe?

I stash dove and came up with a few of the many balls of Debbie Bliss Cashmerino Aran I own. I decided mine should be wider because I'm wider, so I added about 50 extra cast-on stitches and then worked the pattern as written. This may have been a mistake - I really didn't need the extra width for this scarf. The thing is huge! But it is also deeper because I did 12 extra wrap and turns. I do appreciate the extra depth.

My Ruffled Hybrid was a curly mess when I finished knitting. Tom promptly pronounced it very strange.

But I suspected that a good bath might do the trick. There's nothing in knitting that doesn't benefit from blocking. This is likely an overstatement but the principle has always proved true for me, and the following evidence yet again shows that washing and drying makes all the difference.

I particularly like the ruffle which is, as advertised in the patterns title, just enough. The  attractive edge is made by knitting several rows of stockinette, and then on the last right-side row, purling the row. You then bind off purlwise on the wrong side of the piece. This technique results in an attractive  piping effect. My ruffle is four rows longer to match the deeper scarf; as written, it looked a bit puny and out of proportion so I added the additional rows.

So how am I going to wear this baby? Don't have a clue. I've got on a hoodie today that is not the least bit conducive for practice or play at least where this scarf is involved. From what I can tell, it looks best as like Jane Eyre shawl but the tails are quite long. I think I could wrap it around my neck a hundred times and I'd get a cowl effect. Anyway, I'll experiment and post pics of me modeling this creation soon.

After spending a year making nothing but sweaters, it's been fun to knock out Tom's Bald Head Hat in a couple of days and this crazy ruffles hybrid over a weekend. I'm working on some mitts for my Aunt Dixie that will finish up in a jiff, too. Then it's back to sweaters that never yield instant gratification... but I love making them anyway.

Sunday, November 27, 2011

A conversation with Hannah Fettig

Haven't we all ooo-ed and ahhh-ed about the gorgeous new book, Coastal Knits by Hannah Fettig and Alana Dakos? We passed it around with gusto at the recent Knitting at Large meetup where Diane shared her progress on the Gnarled Oak. And I've waxed rhapsodic about it, too, blogging several times about the book and my shaping mods to the Gnarled Oak Cardigan (see Upsizing the Gnarled Oak, Placement of body shaping and darts, and What's next).

I wrote to Hannah and asked her for her thoughts about designing for ample women. The following is her interesting response:
My sweater designs are typically simple in their construction. This lends itself well to offering a wide range of sizes. I have to give credit to my technical editor, Tana Pageler. She is the one who has made this possible, both for Knitbot and for my and Alana’s designs for Coastal Knits. We’re excited about our designs, and want them to be accessible to as many knitters as possible!

One of the things with Coastal Knits that was really important to both Alana and I was offering detailed schematics. No two people are the same, really, in terms of proportions. By offering lots of different measurements for each garment, we hope it’s possible for knitters of all sizes to choose the size that is best for them, and for those who are so inclined, make adjustments based on these measurements. A tech editor friend of mine recently gave the advice to start with the sleeve circumference when considering a size, as a tight sleeve never looks good! This was good for me to hear, as I tend to like a fitted sleeve. I’ll try to stop designing that way, everyone :) I do think the sleeve circumference coupled with the chest circumference are great measurements to start with when deciding on which size garment to knit.

I think yoked cardigans look really nice on all body types. If you’re a Coastal Knits fan with larger measurements, I would highly recommend knitting Alana’s Gnarled Oak Cardigan. If you aren’t opposed to an open cardigan, Rocky Coast Cardigan would also suit many body types.

Hannah pointed out these two beautiful sweaters, but don't forget these other designs offered by Alana and Hannah in larger sizes:

The Wildflower Cardigan, also in Coastal Knits and designed by Alana, comes in sizes up to 60.5 inches (I can't wait to make this for the spring):

Another Coastal Knits lovely: the Water's Edge Cardigan which Hannah designed for a 62.75 bust:

I know many of you will just love Hannah's new shawl-collared Autumnal Cardigan which goes up to a 62-inch finished bust size:

Hannah's Calligraphy Cardigan, which originally appeared as the slightly different and smaller-sized Gooseberry Cardigan on the cover of Knitscene, fits a 60-inch bust:

And I've always like this classic Sock Yarn Pullover, modeled by Hannah herself, in sizes up to 61.25:

And there are others! Check out Hannah's patterns and Alana's patterns on Ravelry to see them all.

I know you will join me in offering hearty thank yous to these talented designers for providing so many beautiful options for the ample community. Please keep up the wonderful work, Hannah and Alana!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Thanksgiving handknits

Thanksgiving is the perfect time to show your family just how talented you are! Which handknit did you wear this year? I chose my Waltham and got rave reviews. I LOVE the shawl collar. Got to make another sweater with one soon.

Here I am with my cousin, Josh who just got back from a two-year stint in the Peace Corps in Mongolia. Glad to have him home for the big holiday. We had a wonderful Turkey Day. Hope you did, too!

Thursday, November 24, 2011

Placement of body shaping and darts

Earlier this month, I wrote about upsizing the Gnarled Oak. I plotted out a revised schematic customized just for my measurements and figured out stitch counts throughout the sweater body. As shown in the image below, my plan is to cast on for 72 inches, knit 2 inches of ribbing, decrease down to 62.5 inches over 14.5 inches of length, knit two inches, and then divide for the armholes. (See the previous post to learn more.) Then I'll follow the pattern as written for the largest bust size because I know the sweater will fit me as written above the armholes.

Next step: I convert my schematic to show stitch and row counts rather than inches. I multiply the width measurements by the stitch gauge of 6, and the row measurements by the row gauge of 7.5. Note that I rounded up the bust stitch count by one stitch to get an even number.

So, here is my game plan:
  • Cast on 432 stitches
  • Knit 15 rows of ribbing
  • Start the decreases and decrease 56 stitches over 109 rows (I got this number by I subtracting 376 from 432 to get 56 stitches)
  • Knit 15 rows of stockinette
  • Divide for the underarms and go back to following the pattern for the largest size
A quick note about row gauge: for patterns such as this, I knit to length measurements rather than counting rows. If my row gauge is off a little, I don't worry about it because I know I'm knitting the correct lengths. For example, I will knit the center body until it's 14.5 inches long whether or not that 109 rows (which it should be if my gauge is spot on).

Now let's figure out where those decreases should go. We essentially are creating a concave quadrilateral (just had to throw that in to make it sound much more complicated than is necessary!)

The Gnarled Oak is knitted all in one piece from the hem to the underarms; therefore, this schematic shows full stitch counts for the entire sweater body. But we don't want to put all our decreases in one place, right? You'd end up with a single 56-stitch wedge in the garment.

Alternately, we could do the decreases in two places at the side seams, decreasing 28 stitches on each side:

But this isn't the optimal placement for shaping. Take a look at my Waltham which uses side seam placement. I ended up with those ridiculous little triangles at the sides and the sweater didn't fit optimally either.

The best choice is to spread the decreases over four wedges and to place these wedges a third of the way in from the side seams. (Some knitters prefer to put the decreases a quarter of the way in from the sides instead.) I refer to these as princess darts because they resemble princess-seamed shaping in sewing.

So, to put these darts in one-third of the way from the sides, I do the following math:
  • Total width of garment: 72 inches
  • Half width of garment: 36 inches
  • Half width of garment divided by 3 (or times 33%): 12 inches
I would insert my darts 12 inches in from each side seam on both the front and the back, or 72 stitches from each side (stitch gauge of 6 times 12 inches = 72 stitches).

With princess darts, you get a terrific fit - or at least I do. I used this shaping for both my Under Toad and the Carnation Pink and got a whole lot closer to my optimal sweater shape.

Okay, so now what do we do? Calculate the decreases. And that's just what we'll talk about next time: MORE MATH. Plus a bunch of online or app calculators that can run the numbers for you, thank goodness.
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Knitting at Large Hall of Fame

Welcome to the first installment of the Knitting at Large Hall of Fame, which features extraordinary projects completed and modeled by plus-size knitters. Almost 800 women have joined the Knitting at Large Ravelry Group and many of them are now knitting ample sweaters that fit and look beautiful, too. Let's honor those who show us and the knitting industry just how lovely a larger sweater can be.

Francesca's Skara Brae in Autumn 

Fran simply rocks this gorgeous twisted stitch turtleneck. Her pitch-perfect knitting technique makes the most of the gorgeous Celtic cable saddle sleeves, too. And no matter how beautiful the sweater, Fran's smile is even better.

Knitter: Francesca aka Dancing-girl on Ravelry
Pattern: Skara Brae by Stephanie van der Linden
Size: 56-inch finished bust size
Yarn: New Lark Donegal Silk Tweed Aran
Knitting time to completion: 3 months
Her mods:
  • Added about 3” length to the body
  • Changed to one size larger needles (4.5mm) when she reached the top of the hips to give extra room for my hips
  • Added a 3” rib band to the bottom which, although it’s shown in the pattern photos, isn’t mentioned in the actual instructions
  • Decreased 3 sts evenly across front cable panel to give the necessary stitch count for the ribbing
  • Shortened the sleeves 

Laurie is one heck of a knitter; I've marveled at her Ravatar colorwork sweater  for years. But this amazing cabled cardi takes the cake. Laurie's superlative yarn choice, fine-tuned modifications, and beautiful finishing send her straight to the Knitting at Large Hall of Fame.

Knitter: Laurie aka LaurieM on Ravelry
Pattern: Eadon by Susanna IC
Size: 53.5-inch finished bust size
Yarn: Rowan Felted Tweed Aran
Knitting time to completion: 2 months
Her mods:
  • Shortened the body by one cable repeat because she was afraid the full length would be too heavy
  • Shortened the sleeves last night because they were so long, her hands felt like she had on sock puppets!

Congratulations to our inaugural Hall of Fame members! And thank you for sharing your talent with the rest of us. May we all make sweaters as lovely as these - and make them for ourselves, too.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Love their hides

I've been incognito for a few days because Tom and I went over the rivers and through the woods to Indiana to visit Aunt Dixie and her brood. My cousin's son, Justin, got married this weekend and we were happy to witness the joyous event.

Sadly, we took exactly three pictures over the weekend and none of them of my relatives, dammit. But here we are at the Holiday Inn in Fort Wayne. Note that I'm wearing my Carnation Pink for the first time - and no one asked if I'd made it either! I was so relieved. :-)

We had a wonderful time. I love their hides! as my mother used to say. Every single one of them, but especially my beloved cousin, Leslie, who shares my passion for creativity and knows all there is to know about garment fitting. She's a devout seamstress and marveled at the darts in my vest with complete understanding and true wonder. She is a such a joy - just wish she didn't live 500 miles away. Here we are with Aunt Dixie last year after my nephew's wedding.

I'm so very grateful for my maternal relations this Thanksgiving. The heck with family values - I truly value my family, especially those incredible Hoosiers.

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Hat for a bald head

I'd forgotten how nice it is to bang out a small project in just a couple of days. Non-ordeal knitting! What a concept.

Here's a hat I made for the beloved boyfriend's birthday next week, an old Pam Allen fair isle winter accessories pattern I found on Patternfish. Tom picked the hat - I've learned my lesson when knitting for men: never knit a thing they haven't expressly selected because they'll never wear it which will irk the living hell out of you. Now I get their buy-in and everyone lives happily ever after.

Tom actually requested this hat to wear on the road. He recently took a job working at Quantico for an FBI contractor, and now lives down there half the week (much to my chagrin. I'm delighted he has the great job, but it makes seeing each other even more difficult). He sleeps in the hat I made him a couple of years ago but he's afraid he'll lose it in the hotel, so he asked for another one. Seems to me that this new hat now becomes the one he loses at the hotel, but oh well.

I knitted the black and white ski hat with uber-soft Debbie Bliss Cashmerino, a merino/cashmere blend that will feel lovely on his bald head. He's getting this stranded cap plus a box of homemade chocolate nut fudge I make for him every birthday.

Another benefit of knitting a fair isle project? It's great practice for the Takoma kal that begins after Christmas. I've swatched my yarn and am ready to go, but I have lots of other stuff I want to knit before then. What else is new?

Monday, November 14, 2011

Evaluating yarn color online

Lynda from Oregon writes:
Julie -- The brown yarn for your Gnarly Oak is gorgeous . . . but I have a question / comment / complaint. I assume from your blog that you ordered this yarn rather than buying it "face to face" (eyeball to skein!). I've been so consistently disappointed in the color variance between photo and reality that I've almost stopped buying yarn via internet or catalogue.
Most recently, I wanted to make a chemo blanket for my son, and it needed to be a quick, washable project, so I chose Jiffy. In both their paper catalogue *and* website, the colors I chose looked like paprika (for the solid) and Indian corn -- yellow, orange, red, brown (for the variegate). What I got was burgundy and and a muted mishmosh that can best be described as autumn leaves on the ground after a rainstorm. Actually, they worked pretty well together and made a nice masculine afghan (see my Ravelry page if you're interested), but they *weren't* the happy cheerful colors I wanted.
Any tips about how to come closer on color when ordering from catalogues or websites?
Excellent question, Lynda. Most companies unfortunately aren't particularly particular about color when it comes to photographing their products. The only way you'll know for sure if you'll like a yarn color is to see it in person, but most local yarn stores can't carry every yarn brand and hue because of the sheer overhead. So here is what I do when I order yarn online:
  • I look at the color cards on the yarn company's website. For example, let's assume I want to buy blue Berroco Ultra Alpaca for a sweater. I start by looking at Berroco's webpage for that specific yarn. Let's assume I choose Periwinkle Mix 62175.

  • Next, I go to Webs and see if they have Berroco Ultra Alpaca in Periwinkle 62175 in stock. Fortunately, they do.
  • Then I compare the swatches. Hmmm... they look different. Not only is the Berroco swatch a little darker, it is also photographed closer up than the Webs swatch.
  • Next, I go to Ravelry. I click on the Yarn tab and search for Berroco Ultra Alpaca.
  • I click through to the Ultra Alpaca (as compared to the other weight variants), click on Projects, and then search for the word periwinkle. Ravelry displays projects made with this yarn. Not only can I see how this yarn knits up in this color, but I often also find pictures people have taken of the yarn in the skein. (Note that you can also try searching by the color number - 62175 in this case.)
  • Now I evaluate all the swatches and project photos to get a true sense of what this yarn looks like in person. I like it! As Betty and Wilma used to say, "CHARGE IT!" Actually, I pay with my debit card, but you get the drift.
Caveats knitters (and Internet users): color displays differently on the web depending on your monitor, its settings, ambient light, sunlight, etc.  All web designers can do is design for an approximate color; we don't have any control on what you actually see. Another thing to keep in mind is that blue is the hardest color to print accurately. So keep this in mind when you order. The method I described has failed me only once and it was with a blue yarn. I ended up keeping the yarn and selling it in a stash sale later because I never really liked it.

I almost always order yarn online because I knit sweaters; LYSs don't carry 2500 yards in a single dye lot of every color, so it's easier for me to buy the larger quantities online and get the quantity discount from Webs, too. Another good deal: Jimmy Beans Wool offers rewards based on previous purchases; I've gotten free shipping and additional discounts on yarn from Jimmy Beans in the past.

Happy shopping! I hope this helps, Lynda. And best wishes to your son, too.

The meetup! And my vest, too

Oh, how I wish you could have joined us at the first Knitting at Large meet-up. What a lovely day! To give you an idea about how it went, I'm going to quote Ruthann (aka MrsPi on Rav):
What I can do for you who couldn’t be there is tell you what I learned from being in a roomful of Knitters At Large….

First: though I’m the only one I know who knits (or crochets) for a larger person, I’m not the only one in the world.

Second: It is fascinating to see how creatively we solved the fitting problems we have.

Third: tips and tricks were exchanged at such a rapid pace that we were all astonished that we’d run overtime.

Fourth: exchanging tips and tricks at such a rapid pace is exhausting. :o)

Fifth: Such a gathering is definitely worth traveling to experience.

I’m sure the others will chime in with things I’ve missed listing above.

Ooh…almost forgot there is a sixth: I got really useful upper bodice/sleeve alteration advice from Julie JUST IN TIME to keep my Braids sweater from being a disappointment.

Seventh: Though I don’t remember doing show-and-tell in school I discovered that you’re NEVER too old to do it. :o)
To this I say: AMEN! What a great event. Unfortunately, I only have one lousy picture to share with you. The problem with knitting group photos is that they never convey the energy - nor the noise!

Other accomplishments: most folks got their measurements and Fit to Flatter pictures taken, so watch this space (and Rav) for the beauteous sweaters that will result.

A thousand thanks to Terry who hosted the event in her apartment's perfect meeting room. Dottie and I got lost coming and going but were very happy when we were there.

Another result of the meet-up is that I now have photos of me sporting my new Carnation Pink vest. I'm digging it and many others are, too. Next I'm going to write up the pattern and then look for test knitters. I'm also going to do a comprehensive lessons learned post. So stay tuned.

PS: The vest is a little lumpy from sitting in it all day so just squint. :-)