Riin's Rants

Knitting and Spinning Gallery, Part 2

squares vest
I made this vest from the dyeing samples I produced in my spinning and natural dyeing class. We used four mordants in the class: alum (potassium aluminum sulfate), tin (stannous chloride), copper (copper sulfate) and iron (ferrous sulfate). Each week we used four different dye plants. Each student put three 5-yard skeins of each pre-mordanted yarn in each dyepot. Since we were using four different mordants and the yarn was pre-mordanted, we pulled four different colors out of each pot. It was exciting! Note we had three skeins of each color. On the last night of class we overdyed one third of the skeins with cochineal and one third with indigo. The other third remained the original color. We also dyed some skeins just with indigo (cochineal had been one of the dye materials we used in an earlier class).

squares vest closeup
Ethically, I'm not sure how I feel about using cochineal now. It's not that I never kill insects, but I think generally, I only kill insects when they're harming me. Or I inadvertently kill them because they're small and it's unavoidable. It doesn't feel right to kill them simply because their bodies yield a crimson dye. I'll use the rest of the cochineal that I have (and a little goes a long way), but I probably won't buy more.

To design the vest, I spread out all the skeins on a white sheet on the floor so I could see all of them the entire time, and then I just played around. This is what I came up with. It buttons up the front, and the buttons are all different. This is another one that I thought I might be able to wear because I remembered it being too small for a while after I had gained weight. When I put it on though...no, I was just swimming in it. Too wide, too long, just too big all over. I thought of putting this one on a wall too, but I thought, no, I made it to wear. If I can't wear it, someone else should.

yellow vest closeup
When I went to buy the natural undyed wool yarn to use for my dyeing samples, I also found this yellow yarn. I really liked the color, and it was reasonably priced, so...it followed me home.

I knit a pullover V-neck vest out of this yarn. The large cable on the left is the center. I really like knitting cables. The first few rows, you have to really pay attention to what you're doing, but after the pattern is established, it's very visual. You can see what has to happen next. It's very mathematical, very logical. Working from a chart, it's very easy. I can't imagine doing complicated cables from written out directions (if I find a cable I like in an old book, I have to translate it into a chart so my head doesn't explode).

I had enough other sweaters that I liked better than this one though that this was a low priority. There was a "Kids in the Hall" episode where Kevin McDonald plays a character with some kind of obsessive-compulsive disorder who's taken hostage by somewhat inept bank robbers; throughout the skit he's walking around with a kind of tunnel vision, saying "Seven things to do today, gotta keep on top of my life, seven things to do..." Sometimes I hear that phrase in my head, only it turns into "700 things to do today..." So...this sweater could go.

purple cardigan
This purple cardigan started as a dyeing experiment. I had been playing around with using Kool-Aid as a dye (I wouldn't ever drink the stuff, but it's a great dye), and I decided to use every color (oh, right..."flavor") available to dye some wool and keep a small labeled sample in a notebook. I intended to use all the dyed wool in a project. I learned that many of the colors were actually identical. Well, ok, they weren't actually marketing them as different colors. Fair enough.

purple cardigan closeup
Most of the colors ended up being awfully bright and pink for my taste. Hmmm... I decided to overdye the whole lot blue. Beautiful! I ended up with several shades of purple and wine with a few teals thrown in. I ran the colors through the drum carder one at a time in thin layers, which held the colors together but didn't mix them. When I pulled the batt off the carder and drew it into roving, the colors mixed in some areas, but stayed distinct in others -- exactly the effect I wanted.

I just played around to get the zigzag design. I wanted some texture, but not something that would be too busy with the variegated yarn. It has raglan sleeves, and I knit it from the top down so all the angles would fit together right around the neck and shoulders. I altered it to make it smaller once after I lost quite a bit of weight, but I lost a lot more weight after that. Because of the raglan construction, it really wasn't possible to alter it further. I needed to find it a good home.

frog cardigan
This is my frog sweater. Why? Well, I was looking through a library book on gardening and designing gardens based on nature (I have no idea what the title of the book was, sorry), and I came across a photograph that grabbed me. It was a little tree frog on a tree trunk. The frog was green with little flecks of golden yellow. The tree bark had lichens growing on it that were the same exact shades of green and yellow as the frog. I stared at the frog and the bark and the lichens, entranced, for at least five minutes. Such beauty.

frog cardigan closeup
The proper way to pay tribute to such beauty seemed to be to design a sweater with these colors. I wasn't going to do a picture of a frog. That wasn't really my style. But I would use the colors of the photo, and it would be my frog sweater. The gray and the dark brown are natural, undyed wool. The gold is leftover yarn from another project. I had dyed a lot of extra green wool in preparation for the second roving exchange -- my contribution was a heathery green -- so I divided the remainder of the wool into a light batch and a dark batch before carding it and then spinning.

The patterns from the yoke and the main body are both from More Sweaters by Lise Kolstad and Tone Takle. I knit corrugated ribbing, using the gold and dark brown. It's a cardigan, as are most of my sweaters. I used dark pewter buttons, very bark-colored.

This was the hardest one to decide to sell. I really loved this sweater. I only made it a few years ago. It's one that ended up bigger than it should have. I might have knit the sweater at a looser gauge than the gauge swatch. But I think the biggest problem was when I was figuring out how big to make it, I just didn't have a realistic idea of how big my body was. Yeah, I measured, but I guess I didn't believe the tape measure. Brains are weird. And then I lost more weight. It was just way too big. So I needed to find it a good home too.

It was really hard emotionally to give up things I had put so much of myself into. These weren't just material possessions. I had created them. I had put my soul into them. At one point I thought, if I give away all these little pieces of my soul, what do I have left? Could that be dangerous? What if I run out of soul? One woman who bought several of my sweaters gave me a different perspective though. She said that making other people so happy would make my soul grow. Hmm. Ok. So maybe the soul is like a starfish...

triangles cardigan closeup
This is one I kept and still intend to alter. I spent considerable time figuring how to go about it, and I think I'll be able to take advantage of the vertical intarsia panels in a way I can't put into words, but it makes sense to my brain (this must be one of those left brain/right brain things). I wanted to wait until my weight stabilized because I didn't want to try to alter it more than once, but my body seems to have made up its mind that this is the size I'm going to be. This is a cardigan that I knit with yarn left over from other projects and small amounts of yarn I had as a result of dyeing or spinning experiments. It took over a year to knit (when I was knitting nearly every day), mostly because I spent so much time untangling the 72 bobbins! If I knew then what I know now, I wouldn't try to knit the whole thing in one piece. Oh well. Live and learn.

bobbles vest closeup
I went on a weekend spinning retreat with a friend and bought this commercially prepared merino roving because I liked the colors in it. After I started spinning it though, I realized the two balls weren't really the same colors. I didn't realize it until I had already plied two bobbins of the one lot, otherwise I would have just plied one with the other for the whole project. I did end up doing that for most of it, and then plying the remainder on itself. As a result, I had three closely related yarns. To make a gradual transition from one to the other, I simply alternated rows. Since the yarn is heathery anyway, and at any time any yarn is adjacent to a "different" yarn that has one ply that is the same as itself, it's impossible to tell that it isn't all one yarn.

This is a vest that buttons. The pattern with the bobbles is just in the yoke, and it's from Barbara Walker's A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns (Triplet Cable, p.184). I plan to reknit it or some similar version of it so it actually fits right. I probably have enough yarn for a cardigan now that I'm smaller, which would be better for me since I'm colder than I used to be. I wear sweaters to keep me warm, not just to look good, so vests aren't really that useful. They're not warm enough.

red cardigan closeup
Here's another one I plan to reknit. This is a cardigan. The two cables on the left that are a mirror image of each other are the center back (I got this cable pattern from Vogue Knitting, Winter Special 1989-90, p.76). The same two cables go down the center front, one on each side of the center band. For buttons I used pewter turtles.

From a distance the yarn looks like a solid dark red. It's only up close that you can see the variation in color and the little bits of cotton thread sticking out here and there. When my grandma died, I inherited a lot of her knitting and sewing stuff. One of the things I got was several boxes of 100% cotton sewing thread. That's something you just don't see anymore. I wanted to do something with it.

I decided to cut it into short lengths and use the pieces the way I had used the colorful silk waste in my gold yarn (below). I realized that being mercerized cotton rather than silk, the ends would probably stick out away from the surface of the knitted fabric, but I thought that would be kind of fun. Enough would be trapped in the yarn, so to speak, that there would be no danger of the thread falling out.

red yarn closeup
I looked at all the thread. I chose about three dozen spools, all the reds, oranges, pinks and browns. I looked at my stash of wool. I had some Bullen's Woolens combed top I'd picked up at a spinning retreat a couple years earlier in a dark wine color, a sort of pumpkin color, and a warm brown. I had a bunch of bright cherry red roving that had come from somewhere. Needed some brown...I got out some undyed natural dark brown roving. The perfect mix.

To cut the thread into short pieces, I simply took an exacto knife and sliced along one side of each spool, cutting through all the thread. I usually had to make more than one pass to cut through all the layers of thread on the spool. I let all the colors fall in one pile, and then I mixed them up into a jumble with my fingers.

I divided all the wool into several small batches (the right size to run through my drum carder) so I had the colors divided out more or less evenly, i.e., each batch had about the same proportion of colors. Then I doled out the thread, trying to give about the same amount and a mix of colors to each batch. To process each batch, I ran about half the wool through the drum carder, color by color (since there was more of some colors than other colors, I did more layers of those colors, interspersing them, not just making a thicker layer). Then I laid the thread right on the large drum, slowly turning it, covering it more or less evenly. Then I continued processing the rest of the wool. I pulled the batt off the drum, tore it in half, stretched each half out and ran it slowly through the drum carder a second time, pulled the batt off, and stretched it into roving. I processed each batch that way. When spinning the yarn, I had to be a little careful when I got to the threads sometimes, but it wasn't that unusual.

I really like the color and the yarn, but I think I might do something simpler when I reknit it. I keep saying I'll do a simple sweater. And then when I sit down to design a sweater, the OCD takes over, and it just doesn't happen. But I'd kind of like to have a simple sweater. Sigh...ok, Riin, rein yourself in...

gold wool/silk blend
I think this is the first one I want to reknit though. This was a simple sweater, but it was very loose, very long, absolutely huge on me now. This is the sweater the yarn at the top of the frog sweater is left over from. It's a blend of wool in natural and chemical-dyed colors (bright yellows and coppery rose shades), some dark burgundy silk (I had a skein of heavy silk singles that was a beautiful color, but I knew I wasn't going to use it as yarn. But I did like that color... I cut it into pieces, about 4 inches long, and voilà -- fiber to add to the mix), and some silk "waste" in a zillion bright happy colors (they don't really show up in the small area shown here, but they're throughout the sweater).

I want to make a simple cardigan, using the same buttons I used before (beautiful dark copper with a bumpy surface), but this time I'll make a sweater that actually fits me now. It's not so much that I need a sweater. It's that I need to knit. I've gotten away from it, and that's really not good. It's something I need to do for my mental health. What happened?

I never finished the last project I was working on. I was making my husband a sweater at his request. And then we decided to get divorced. So that was the end of that. I asked him if he wanted it, to find someone else to finish knitting it for him, or to hang on a wall or something, but he didn't, so I sold it to a fellow knitter at my first moving sale who said she was going to make it into a pillow.

I had started the sweater over a year and a half earlier, and all I had gotten done was about three quarters of the back. Granted, it was a complicated pattern that went kind of slow...but looking back, I'm wondering now if maybe I just didn't want to make the sweater. There was a long period when I was just too depressed to knit, I remember, after my friend Ken was killed, but I started knitting it long before he was killed. If I had wanted to knit it, knitting it would have helped me heal. I liked the colors. I liked the yarn. I liked the design. I'm starting to think now that maybe I just didn't want to make him a sweater. I couldn't admit that to myself.

I haven't knit anything since then. I figured, well, I'm just not going to have time during the next few months. I'm just going to be too busy. Knitting will just have to wait. "700 things to do today, gotta keep on top of my life, 700 things to do..." What the hell was I thinking? Somehow my brain got the idea that I don't have time to take a break and do something fun until I get everything on my to-do list done. My to-do list is months' worth of chores. What ever possessed me to think I shouldn't be allowed to have any fun until everything on it is finished? Stupid OCD. No wonder I got sick.

I need to find the box that has that sweater in it, unpack it, unknit it, wind the yarn into hanks, wash it, find my knitting needles, and start knitting gauge swatches. I feel like I don't have the energy, and I'll probably have to do it in small steps (the idea of moving boxes around is kind of overwhelming right now...), but it will be good for my mental health. I need to do it to heal.

I have to do something creative for my sanity. I need to do something fun. I need to do something for me. I need to make myself a sweater.

January 6, 2006 Update. I've discovered something about myself. I have a gauge problem. Now, don't get me wrong, I always knit gauge swatches. And then I figure out how many stitches I need for the sweater. Outstanding Senior Math Student, class of 1983, thank you very much, no problem there. It's just that once I know how many stitches I need and what needle size to use, I figure since I knit my gauge swatch, the sweater should come out to the right size. Shouldn't it? The problem is the gauge in my sweater ends up being a different gauge than the gauge in my swatch.

The sweater I said I wanted to reknit first? The one that had been very loose the first time I knit it? Heh. There's a reason it was very loose. The first time I knit it, it ended up a lot bigger than I had planned on. I figured oh well, good enough. Wasn't what I planned on, but actually it looked elegant. But when I reknit it, I wanted something more close fitting. I dutifully made my gauge swatch as always, did my math, knit the body up to the shoulders, bound the shoulders off together and tried it on. Oh. Well. Um. That's quite a bit more close fitting than what I wanted. That's what you might call tight. Definitely not flattering. Crap.

I measured the gauge. Yeah, that explained it. That wasn't the gauge I was supposed to have. So I frogged back to just above the ribbing and switched to a larger needle size than before. That seems to give me the right gauge, but I'm constantly checking now ("Is it still the right gauge? What about now?"). One more thing to be obsessive-compulsive about. Oh, fun.

blue angora shawl
In the mean time, I actually finished something. John asked me if I would knit a shawl for a good friend who's always cold in her apartment. Well, angora should keep her warm. I used Stephanie Pearl-McPhee's Snowdrop Shawl Pattern. I'm thinking with this color, maybe this isn't so much a snowdrop shawl as a delphinium shawl. I felt a bit like I was knitting with Grover fur, it being so fuzzy and blue, but of course it was from Frida.

I really enjoyed having a lace project to work on. I don't wear lace (just not my thing. Too girly, I guess. I found this How Boyish or Girlish Are You? quiz and I came out 50/50. I can't say I was surprised) but I love to knit it! It's fun! It definitely does take more concentration than usual though. There are a few mistakes in here...but I don't think anyone could find them except me. I'm not going to show anyone where they are. And to tell you the truth, I might not be able to find them anymore myself. It's soft and warm and beautiful, and that's what matters.

pillow
I also took some time to fix a pillow I made a few years ago so it looks decent. I knitted it out of leftovers, and there was nothing wrong with my knitting, but when I made it I stuffed it with a pillow form made to stuff pillows. Logical enough, right? Apparently those things are made with the idea that you'll just look at the pillow and admire it, not actually use it. All the stuffing compressed and wadded up, leaving my pillow lumpy and sort of half empty. No amount of fluffing or shaking could help. It just needed a new pillow inside.

This time instead of a pillow form I bought an actual pillow. One the same size as my pillow, meant to be used as a pillow, with a maroon moleskin cover so if any fabric showed through between the knit stitches, it wouldn't call attention to itself or look bad (unlike the pillow form which was just white. I didn't want to see white fabric through the stitches). So I undid some sewing along one of the sides, took out the lumpy, dead pillow form, inserted the nice, full, real pillow, re-sewed the side, and there! Now it's a pillow I'm proud to show you! It looks pretty good on my $20 loveseat, no? The loveseat isn't really my taste, but did I mention it was 20 bucks? Craigslist rocks. I wanted someplace comfortable to sit while I knit so I'd knit more, and I didn't want to spend a lot. Good deal. So on with the knitting, and hopefully I can keep my gauge.

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