Wednesday, January 27, 2016

Curse You, Thumb Gusset!

I have been prodigiously prolific this week and last. My very narrow repertoire of one cowl pattern made on an assortment of different sized needles has held up well. Hats, following the pattern my mother taught me, are starting to look somewhat similar; a good thing given that they are all following the same pattern. But it is the thumb gusset for mitts that is my nemesis. Stupid thing. I've made one mitt, on teensy circular needles, and it is like knitting with toothpicks and a short line of dental floss. If I have arthritis, it is speaking to me now as I slog away on my mitt. And the sad thing about mitts is that you have to do two of them. Curse you, thumb gusset.

Here's my thumb gussetting nemesis. The yarn is a gorgeous turquoise-y blue green-y Louisa Harding Kashmir Aran yarn, 55% merino wool, 35% microfiber, 10% cashmere. I picked up 10 50g balls at SewGreen for a mere $6 each. It's very soft. So far, I've used 3 balls to make the cowl - the balls are 83 yards each and it's recommended to use a size 8 needle. I am working with a size 7 9" circular needle, which is likely too small, but I like how tight the knit is... I just don't enjoy doing the tight knitting. The mitt used quite a chunk of one ball; it would be enough to knit a full mitten if I weren't so mad at the gusset just now. 

I've got six balls left, so I've got one more mitt to make, a hat, which I think will take two balls... I suppose I could make another cowl and then come up with some other yarn in a complementary color for a hat and mitts. We'll see. That second mitt is going to kill me.

Here's my current mitt recipe, so I don't forget it. Note that I make no claim to being a pattern writer; there are lots of people who are better at this than I:

On size 3 9” circular needles:
  • Cast on 36 stitches, place a row marker
  • Knit one perl one for 25 rows
  • Knit 10 rows
  • Knit 2 stitches, place a second row marker, finish the row, then knit a row. Then increase a stitch, knit the two stitches between the row marker, then increase another stitch (so now there are 4 stitches between the row markers), finish knitting the row, then knit another row. Keep increasing until there are 14 or 16 stitches for the thumb gusset, place stitches on pin
  • Knit 10 rows, perl 2 rows, cast off
  • Use double pointed needles and split off the 16 stitches for the thumb gusset. Increase 3 stitches while circling around the thumb, battle mightily until you cannot stand it any more (5 rows), then cast off in disgust and get out the darning needle to fix all the bad mojo. I also had to break out my nail manicure kit to grind down my nails so they would stop catching on the yarn in my mitt.
Another version that I like:
  • Cast on 34 stitches (really, for me it just depends on the thickness of the yarn and how many stitches can comfortably fit, taking into consideration that with the circular needles things get tight when I add on the additional stitches for the thumb gusset). Place a row marker.
  • Knit one perl one for 15 rows.
  • Add a little fanciness - I'll knit a row and then perl a row to get a border above the cuff and then knit 13 rows for a total of 15 rows; or I'll knit a row and then perl a row, then knit two together and then yarn over for a row, then perl a row and then knit 12 rows for a total of 15 rows.
  • Knit 2 stitches, place a second row marker, finish the row, then knit a row. Then increase a stitch, knit the two stitches between the row marker, then increase another stitch (so now there are 4 stitches between the row markers), finish knitting the row, then knit another row. Keep increasing until there are 14 or 16 stitches for the thumb gusset, place stitches on pin
  •  Add another round of fanciness - I'll knit 8 rows and then perl 2 rows and cast off, or I'll knit 7 rows and then perl a row, then do a row that knits two together and then does a yarn over. Cast off.
The cowl pattern is a free pattern I found on pinterest by SourCherries. It is my current favorite cowl pattern, so I keep making the same one. 

UPDATE - I finished the other mitt, and for some reason it went much more smoothly than the first mitt, so all is well. The first mitt is a little tighter fitting, but I don't think that's a problem.

I made a matching hat, using a free pattern I found at Expression Fiber Arts called Bronze Age Hat Free Knitted Pattern. It was a delight to knit, producing a cozy, slouchy hat, and the pattern was easy to follow. I had to learn one new stitching skill, ktbl. I learned this by watching a youtube video. Bless the internet, it has made my life bearable. A special thanks to Chandi Agee for sharing her pattern. Don't look too closely, as I didn't get it done perfectly, but still, it turned out very well and I'm going to do another with a different yarn.

Now I'm down to four balls left... what to make?

I also finished this dandy cowl. I picked up 3 skeins of vintage Noro Silk Garden for $8 each at SewGreen. I never would have thought to put these colors together, but I really like them.

I bought this yarn because I had heard a lot about Noro and wanted to try some. Each ball was 50 grams, consisting of 45% silk, 45% mohair, and 10% lambs wool. It's pretty soft. It is self striping yarn, which means each ball has long, 15 yard stripes of color. 

I'm planning on dyeing yarn this summer and I want to try this technique myself. I figure, you measure out the yarn in 15 yard increments and sort of pile it up. And then you pick different dye colors and dye each of the piles. I think I'd also like to try taking different colors of roving and weighing them out and then spinning a certain amount of one color, then switching to another color and spinning that, and so on. Now that I've seen these colors, I can see a way to make use of some of the brown alpaca that I've got tucked away in the basement.

I also wrapped up some yarn for a friend of my sister's. The turquoise blue yarn is 1/3 silk, 2/3 alpaca and dreamy soft. The multi-colored yarn has lots of different stuff in it, mostly alpaca. You can see purples and greens and some turquoise:

Saturday, January 9, 2016

Old Grapes Make Pretty Good Row Counters

Those of you who are old hands at knitting probably have some sort of device to keep track of your rows. I have one somewhere, but I'm not sure where it is. So I decided to use grapes. I've got these grapes sitting next to me that didn't taste all that good, so now every time I finish a row, I put a grape onto a plate, and when I get eight grapes, I switch to purling and throw out the grapes. Don't mock me, it's working pretty well, and it makes me feel a lot better about the crappy grapes... kind of like I'm giving them new life.

I also read that you could use a piece of yarn as a stitch marker. I'm pretty sure I have two packages of stitch markers, but I can't remember where those are.. I can see one lonely marker sitting next to me, but that's it. So the scrap of yarn is working as my stitch marker for now... kind of makes me feel silly about buying those packages of stitch markers. Seems to me like if my kid gets braces, I could use those colored rubber bands...

Last week I decided I wanted to make some yarn for my friend Linda. I didn't want to oversell its virtues, so I added a dandy truth in advertising statement to each of the skeins:

Moderately (but not embarrassingly) Imperfect

Pretty Pretty Princess Mitts

I am quite the adventuress these days, and so last week I got all wild and learned how to make mitts. Mitts, not mittens.

The biggest virtue to mitts, if you ask me, is that you get to stop knitting them before they become mittens. This was my first attempt to make two of something, and I wore out pretty early on once I learned the sacred nuances of the thumb gusset from my friend Channyn.

Wondering about the virtues of mitts? They make your fingernails look bright and shiny. I'm told they could be useful if you are a farmer... milking the cows? Holding onto the reigns when you ride a horse? Ah, whilst riding through town on a cold day in a convertible, you could perch up on the headrest and wave your most queenly wave to passersby. Yes, that's how I would use these mitts.

Now I've wrapped up two lovely cowls out of this yarn, and two more hats, and a total of two sets of mitts. My husband has a friend who has an identical twin sister who is in nursing home rehab, so I think I'll send them a hat, cowl and mitts set for each, so they can be ultimate twinners. 

I also made a hat and scarf that I sent to my friend Cindy. The scarf has a ruffle that my friend Joyce taught me to make. And the hat is perfect for chemo in the wintertime, warm enough to wear out and about if it isn't toooo cold, and soft and comfortable enough for indoor wear when you need a little something to contain the heat.

Cindy's scarf and hat
Two hats, two sets of mitts, two cowls for Jeanie and her sister

That's the last of this yarn, called malabrigo rastita 863 Zarzamora. It is lovely yarn, but I am thoroughly tired of looking at it. Kind of pricey at $15.20 per skein, but it was lovely to knit with and I certainly got a lot of projects out of the six skeins that I purchased.

Just so I won't forget how to knit these projects:

The hat:

Size 7 circular needles, cast on 76 stitches, knit one perl one for the brim for a couple of inches, knit for 8 inches and then decrease until you have to switch to double pointed needles and keep decreasing until done. That's not a true pattern, for sure. Every hat made came out differently because one hat I cast on 78 stitches, which changed how the brim worked out, and I didn't even bother doing a brim for a couple of the hats, and there's a whole thing about how many stitches to decrease by and at what point, which I lost track of and the hats looked fine to me anyway.

The cowls:

The cowl pattern is a free pattern I found on pinterest by SourCherries. It is my current favorite cowl pattern, so I keep making the same one. 

Cast onto size 7 circular needles until you are sick of casting on (as far as I can tell, cowls can be thick or thin, long or short... if you make them really long you can wrap them around your neck more than once, and if you don't, then you can't). Knit the first row, then perl a row, yarnover and knit 2 together for a row, perl a row, then knit 8 rows, then start over with perling a row followed by the yarnover and then the knitted rows. Do this until you are sick of knitting or run out of yarn, finish with the perl/yarnover/perl thing plus one knitted row and then cast off.

The mitts:

I liked the size 3 teensy circular knitting needles that my friend Channyn gave me the best. They are clover 9" No. 3s. If you have arthritis, they give you a bit of a workout. As an alternative, you could knit with double pointed needles. I am still finding dpns to be floppy torture devices, but expect that at some point I'll get better at handling them. I knit one pair with size 7 teensy circular needles, but the 3s produced a nicer, tighter result. I'll try the 7s with a thicker yarn.

oh dear, my dog is snoring really loudly right now and I see she has her face stuffed into one of the cowls. I can't take it away, she looks way too happy.

With the 7s, I cast on 36 stitches, and with the 3s, I cast on 40 stitches. I knit one then perled one for the cuff, 20 rows. Next time I'd like to try making a longer cuff, say twice as long, and then fold it up. If the purpose of mitts is to keep your wrists warm, then doubling the cuff could really work for that.

After the cuff is done, I knit 10 rows, then I started working on my thumb. To do that, I put two stitch markers on either side of 2 stitches. Then I knit around and did a backwards knit (somebody will tell me the correct name of that stitch, I'm sure) to increase the stitch to the left of the rightmost marker, and then knit until the last stitch before the leftmost marker and increased with another backwards knit stitch. Then I finished knitting that row and knit one additional row, and when I came around and hit the stitch markers again, I increased 2 more stitches. I did this until I had 16 stitches between the stitch markers, but more importantly, I put on the mitt and squeezed the thumb gusset shut periodically to make sure my thumb would fit. I only forgot to knit the extra row for one mitt... there was much cursing and then I practiced my skill at undoing 10 rows of stitches, because it took me that long to notice that I had a very stout thumb gusset.

Next, I took one of those great big diaper pin things and moved the 16 stitches onto that. Then I increased one stitch. I can't remember why Channyn told me to do that, but it looked fine so that's what I do. Then I knit on through as if I didn't have a big diaper pin full of stitches hanging around.

Stop to thank your lucky stars for the invention of the darning or tapestry needle, because after everything is done, you go back and clean up your thumb gusset by sewing up any dangly holes that are hanging out. I did much less darning on the mitts that I used the size 3 needles on, because everything was held together more tightly with the small stitches.

Go on and knit 20 more rows to finish off the rest of the mitt. My yarn is curled at the top, so while I got decorative at the end of one set of mitts and did a perl/yarnover-knit 2 together/perl at the top, on the second pair, I just cast off and the top curled over nicely and looked just as good to me.

Now, go back to the 16 stitches hanging off the big diaper pin and split them across 3 doublepointed needles. After knitting around to where I started, I poked around and increased 3 stitches around the circumference of the thumb hole, trying to pick the spots to increase the stitches that wouldn't create big dangly holes in the knitting. But this is finicky work, so if you're a loose knitter, you might just end up with holes.I knit 5 rows and then cast off, and then dug out the darning needle to tie up loose ends and dangly thumb gusset holes.