A Quick Note About Gauge

How many times have I read how important it is to swatch for gauge when knitting a new pattern? Too many to count. But when starting a pattern I’ve already knit, it seems like an unnecessary step, and who really swatches for socks? For the most part, sock yarn is fairly stretchy and I seem to have an average size foot. Every sock I’ve knit fits more or less, some a little slouchy or a little long, but I’m not picky when my feet are warm.

I finished knitting this pair of socks last year. They are my favorite pair of socks by a long shot. The fit is snug without being tight, the plant-dyed wool yarn is a beautiful color and the pattern is deceptively simple. As soon as they were off the needles, I cast on another pair with a different yarn. Why spend time memorizing a pattern when this one is so perfect?

Because not every sock yarn is the same, that is why. Knit with the same size needles, these socks are so tight I can’t get them past my ankle. No matter of pulling, stretching and wiggling will work. Am I disappointed? Very. I love the color and the hand of this yarn, but there must be something in the fiber content (superwash merino/tencel by Tactile Fibers) which is not quite as elastic as the first yarn (100% merino).

Then there is the question of gauge. Most yarns are labeled fingering weight, but on both yarns the manufactuers offer a range from 7-9 sts/inch . When working on tiny needles, just a couple of extra stitches can make the difference between a pair of socks that fit, and a pair that don’t fit.

Knitting Love and Warmth

When bad news sweeps in like the north wind, what is a knitter to do?  Focus the mind and the hands on something constructive.

Last week, I picked up the pattern and the yarn for Fruktträdgård, Swedish for orchard. My average running time on most knitting projects is around a year, give or take a couple months, but I knocked this one out in record time.

Perhaps it was my enthusiasm brimming over as I moved from the ribbing to the pattern stitches that caused me to misread the instructions. I knit until the skein ran out on needles that were two sizes too large. Since this luxury yarn (baby alpaca, silk, camel and cashmere) was chosen for its ultra softness with a specific person in mind, I frogged the hat back to the ribbing to knit it a second time on the correct needles. Unfortunately, I still ran out of yarn before finishing the pattern as written.

The only yarn in my stash that was a similar fiber content and weight was white, so I knit up the crown with the intentions of crocheting a row of white around the cast-on edge for balance. My daughter snatched it as soon as I had it off the needles, wearing it proudly to soccer practice where she was sure to run into friends. Only after agreeing to knit another for her, did she give it up.

It is the perfect slouchy tam for anyone with thick hair. However, the intended recipient will soon have no hair. After consulting a friend who knit the same pattern with a similar intention, she suggested pulling back several pattern repeats to make the hat more form fitting, which would also use less yarn.

My third try was the charm. There was yarn to spare and the hat now has a slimmer fit.

I sent the hat off in the mail today with the hope that it bathes the recipient in warmth and love.

Fraternal Twin Socks

Hello Readers,

Sorry to have neglected this blog for so long. I have to say that discipline has never been my strongest suit, so when habits slip away (blogging, jogging, flossing), months can go by before I realize how much I missed those markers of time passing.

I’ve recently discovered the Doubleknit podcast, created by Jessica and Erin, Seattle knitters who happen to work at my neighborhood yarn store.  Each episode they discuss finished projects, new projects, as well as good books and movies they’ve seen recently. Their conversations are relaxed and chatty, while also serving to point out new ideas in the fiber world that have escaped my distracted notice ( (forgive me, knitting has been low on my list of daily activities).

As Jessica noted in one of the early podcasts, it is important to keep life in perspective, both in terms of the hooray moments and learning opportunities. Today’s lesson will be about dye lots.

Exhibit A: two skeins of Lorna’s Laces Shepherd Sock yarn in the Baltic colorway

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Notice the different shades and the color repeats. I started with two skeins, but lost one on an airplane and when I returned to buy another skein, they no longer had the same dye lot. How different could they be, I wondered. Plenty. The sock on the left has more pronounced brown segments with narrow bits of blue, while the sock on the right has very little outright brown and the colors are overall more balanced.

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Lovely socks to wear with jeans, not so lovely to wear with skirts as I intended. I really wanted a pair of mid-calf socks to wear with swingy skirts, but not only do the colors look odd, but my gauge was different so one sock can be pulled nicely up to my mid-calf while the other strangles my circulation, so mostly slouches around my ankle.

Thorndike Silk Scarf

While in New Hampshire, my mother and sister-in-law suggested we visit a flea market in the next town. This classic New England town has a wide grassy boulevard that divides the main street. On this particular Saturday, vendors set up tables around the perimeter of the granite-fenced greenbelt selling antiques, vintage housewares and to my delight a woman was unloading her fiber stash.

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I bought two small Harrisville peg looms, several skeins of beautiful heathered yarns and a small zippered pouch with two hand dyed silk caps. Beautiful, I thought to myself, I can use these for felting. On closer inspection, the pouch also had a printed insert identifying the source as Ellen’s 1/2 Pint Farm and a pattern for knitting a scarf directly from the silk cap. I’d never heard of this method, but since I was familiar with drafting silk and wool, the idea intrigued me.

Inspired by the Sea Tangles cardigan in Knitty’s summer issue, I decided to knit this with a deliberately non-traditional, meandering, undefined cable; sometimes pulling to the front, sometimes pulling to the back, sometimes inserting more than on e cable in a row and sometimes encouraging stitches to travel.

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Drafting the silk the correct amount took a little practice, but before long I was able to tease out an arm’s length at a time, knit a row and repeat. The rows I knit as a passenger on the way to Boston aren’t so great – you can tell my drafting suffered in the car, but overall the scarf is delightful. If you think knitting in public draws attention, trying drafting a big seafoam pile of fluff and knitting it with little ladybug needles to make heads turn.

Handspun Stripe Sweater

Nothing thrills me like learning a new skill, like spinning for example. Spending the weekend at Madrona cozy with my drop spindle, falling deeper and deeper in love with the process and the yarn I was creating, some friends overheard me mutter: ‘I’m so over knitting’. Famous last words. What I didn’t realize at the time was that at some point, the spinner feels compelled to do something with the lovely yarn they have spun. It is pretty to admire on the mantle, but it is even nicer wrapped around the body.

The wrist warmers were a great way to see the fiber as knit fabric, but didn’t really satisfy my urge to see just how far my yarn would go. After browsing Ravelry a bit and trolling through my existing stash, I decided a striped cardigan would be the safest bet, as I could just substitute another color if I ran out. I pulled out six hanks of Bartlett Yarns Fisherman 3-ply and turned to the Random Stripe Generator to program the color sequence.

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Even if you don’t plan to knit, crochet, felt, collage or paint, this is a fun little tool. Don’t like the colors? Just refresh and you’ll get a new palette.

Pure and Simple Cardigan

My criteria in pattern selection was something easy so I could still socialize at the same time. I settled on the world’s simplest pattern series: Knitting Pure and Simple; this is the Neckdown Jacket (201). When I declared my love affair with knitting over, I think I was really saying I was done torturing myself with the never-ending race to master progressively more complicated pieces. Working on a simple piece does not qualify as back-sliding, in the same way as ditching my running routine, or swim practice. Incidentally, we’ve just started biking to school (which means four rides for me with the extra legs home). It is exciting to be out in the world as a family, each person motoring with their own steam.

Engergized by Spinning

From roving to 2ply yarn to knitted cuff:

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I am delighted with my results, as I can clearly see the progression in my spinning and plying in each hank. This cuff was knit with one of nine hanks; each hank took me between 2 1/2 and 3 hours to spin and ply on my drop spindle. I estimate the cuff used between 30 and 50 yards based on the one time I slowed down enough to count the loops on my niddy noddy.

The hank I used for this cuff appears to have a lot of twist still left in the yarn, though most of the hanks were balanced after washing and drying. I’m still not sure what size needles are best for the thick and thin yarn. The cuff was knit on size 6/4.0 mm dpn and the gauge measures around 4.5 stitches/inch; this was very tight for the thicker sections, but comfortably snug for the greater portion of the yarn. I’m tempted to rip it back and try knitting it on larger needles, but I worry that the thin sections will leave gaps.

This roving, which I bought on etsy from Dancing Leaf Farm, was so much fun to spin that I’m feeling a little bereft now that it is finished. The ball band wrapped around the roving claims this is ‘wool from free-range sheep with names’. Buying 8oz of handpainted merino roving for $19.50 is a great value, plus I love the idea of supporting a shepherd in Maryland. I just checked the shop, and there is another batch of the same colorway for sale. However, since I don’t have any specific plans for knitting this yarn, I’m going to hold off on buying any more. Last night, I spent my entire evening with the Fiber Gallery knitters, perusing books looking for ways to use a small bit of precious yarn. I’d love to hear how other spinners use their yarn and suggestions for the best way to make your wool go the distance.

Mossy Ferns

Socks I love:

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Baudelaire by Cookie A is a beautiful toe-up lace pattern, elegant and easy to memorize. It was a joy to knit through and through. I loved this pattern for the gorgeous lace vine that drew the admiration of onlookers. I loved the instructions for a sewn bind-off; no more do I struggle to get my toe-up socks over my heel because the super elastic cuff stretches and then snaps back.

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Yarn I love:

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Fleece Artist Basic Merino Sock in Moss. Soft, supple and not splitty. The color variation was interesting without varying too much. Plenty of yarn for my size 8 feet, with enough to spare for an infant hat or two.

The best part was starting these socks on one vacation in New Hampshire, and finishing them on another vacation on Keats Island. Lovely.

Knit Silver Wire Bundles

Last month, Marysusan of All Good Girls Are Marys issued a collaborative challenge: she expanded on a design I created and posted the illustration on her blog. I loved her idea, but being separated from my tools and materials, I was forced to sit on my hands until I returned to Seattle. While at Keats, I combed the beach looking for interesting morsels to dangle.

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As soon as the dirty clothes were sorted and fresh fruit on the counter, I pulled out my needles. My first prototype was knit with 24 gauge nickel-plated craft wire. This resulted in a clunky heavy bundle without much definition. It will be perfect to hang from my rear-view mirror, but not from the neck of any human I know.

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The next two were knit with 28 gauge dead-soft sterling silver wire; this means the wire is extremely malleable and very fine, resulting in a much lighter little package that may bend if abused.

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The last package was strung up on wax-coated cotton cord with 24 gauge half hard sterling silver wire and findings. The difference between 28 gauge (the thinner wire used to create the pocket) and 24 gauge (the thicker wire used to wrap the cord) is noticeable in the picture below.

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If you are interested in trying this project, I would recommend working with half-hard sterling silver wire instead of dead-soft, unless you plan to create a production line knitting a never ending string of chain mail. Half-hard wire will make your hands sore after a while, but it is worth it in the ultimate durability of your finished product.

Addendum

One lovely Saturday in August, I visited a small fair in the town of Dublin, NH. I was delighted to meet the woman who sold my mother-in-law six skeins of yarn last year, which I used to knit my Rogue vest.

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It turns out that the yarn is not homespun, as I had thought, but Fisherman Yarn by Bartlett Yarns of Maine. This woman sells the wool from her sheep twice a year to the mill, and they give her yarn in exchange. I was so pleased to work with this mulespun yarn that I bought another six skeins for a future project.