Sunday, August 2, 2015

Knitting for Anarchists - Book Review

This past week I picked up a slim volume by Anna Zilbourg called Knitting for Anarchists - The What, Why and How of Knitting.  The goal of this work is to help people see and understand what they are doing when they are knitting because understanding and knowledge is power.  If you can look at a pattern and understand the fundamentals of it you can modify it to suit yourself, or figure out poorly written directions, or find mistakes that have slipped by the tech editors.  The style of writing is fun and breezy and it is a quick and easy read.  Most of the advice I had already figured out for myself, but there were a couple of gems that I hadn't. 

The book is divided into two parts with 10 chapters.  An introductory chapter (Knitting for Anarchists) lays our Anna Zilbourg's knitting philosophy and provides an overview of the chapters that follow.

Part I covers the craft of knitting and Part II covers the creation of your own unique patterns and provides individual chapters on three different sweater designs - the all-purpose strip-knit anarchist sweater, a pullover and a cardigan.

She spends a fair bit of time discussing the anatomy of stitches and how basic manipulation of these basic units create such a variety of finished fabrics.  In her short section on gauge I had my first "a ha" moment.  Have you ever wondered why it is so hard to get both stitch and row gauge?  Stitch gauge is governed primarily by the weight of the yarn, because the predominant factor is the thickness of the legs of your stitch.  Row gauge is governed primarily by how tight or loose you knit.  When you change needle size in your effort to get gauge you are primarily going to affect the row gauge.  Chasing gauge can be a frustrating and time-consuming and sometimes an ultimately fruitless process.  I like to find a needle size that gives me a fabric that I like, determine my gauge from that swatch, and then adjust the pattern accordingly (this is why we have spreadsheets and calculators).  Of course gauge swatches never tell the whole story, so check your gauge again once you've knit for a while on your project and adjust accordingly (this is EZ's advice as well).

In her section on casting on she has some great tips for ways of using crochet chains (which, after all, is only a single knit stitch run up over multiple rows), including using them in dolman sleeves and for knitting a sleeve from the shoulder to cuff, but not as part of a top-down set-in sleeve, where you pick up stitches around the arm hole (my favorite method).  I'm not sure why I would want to knit a sleeve from the top down separate from the body, but it is nice to know the technique is out there.

She also details a wonderful way of knitting buttonholes.  I found the explanation a bit hard to follow (actually I found all of the explanations a little hard to follow, but I am a visual person and there are pictures) but once I got what she was doing I was blown away by the brilliance.  You can only do this if you're making a faced button hole band.  When you come to where you want the button hole you knit however many stitches you need to make the button hole with some scrap yarn, not the yarn you're using for the band itself.  But how do you get to the other side?  Well, you put those stitches you just knit with the scrap yarn back onto your left hand needle and now knit them with your working yarn.  So now you have a "button hole" in waiting defined by the stitches made with the scrap yarn.  Do this for the rest of the button holes.  Now, when you're working the facing, when you get to where that button hole should be you pull out the scrap yarn and graft the stitches from the facing with the "bottom" stitches (those closest to the body) and then put the "top" stitches onto your needle to make up for the stitches you just used in the graft.  The result is a very neat, elegant, couture button hole.

There is also a nice section on knitting and designing cables and playing with color.  I still use a cable needle when knitting cables (even though I knit lace without lifelines), but I'm going to try her technique of knitting without a cable needle next time I work some.

There are two principals that she espouses that I wholeheartedly agree with:  1)  Only knit things you enjoy and 2) Learn to read your knitting.

There are so many wonderful things to knit out there, and wonderful yarns to knit with that you shouldn't knit anything that you don't enjoy.  Now, sometimes a pattern may not be fun to knit simply because of the way it is written up or constructed.  In that case, if you really want to make it, think about a better way of doing it.  If you understand the fundamentals of knitting you can decompose designs and put the pieces back together in a way that may make it more fun for you to knit.  I do this all the time, changing pullover patterns to knit them in the round, or changing a bottom up design into a top down design, bottom up sleeves to top down, or changing a circular shawl into a cape.

If you want to take your knitting to a level beyond faithfully following pattern directions, if you want to master lace knitting, or stranded knitting, or cables, one of the things you should do is learn how to read your knitting.  When I first started knitting lace I immediately went to the charts and taught myself how to read them, from there it wasn't too long before I was able to correlate what I was seeing in the chart with what I was seeing in my knitting.  I found looking at the written directions for lace knitting excruciatingly painful.  Test knitting and tech editing has since taught me to use the written directions as well as the charts as some things are easier to explain in the written directions (and I have to proof the written directions against the chart as part of my tech editing), but I still rely mostly on charts.  I remember a situation that arose in a group (not a Unique Sheep group) that I belong to where someone posted about how they "didn't think they should have to learn to read their knitting or charts" in order to knit lace.  I didn't know what to say to that, it just made me sad.

There are more detailed books on knitting technique and knitting design out there, but if you want a book that might make you look at your knitting (and the world) a little differently and may give you a couple of "a ha" moments, pick this one up and give it a read.

Knitting for Anarchists - The What, Why and How of Knitting by Anna Zilbourg, published by Dover Publications

Friday, July 31, 2015

Once and Future King - Clue 3 Done

Clue 3 came out today, so I can reveal mine.  I don't know what I'm going to do when Clue 5 comes out, I didn't get a picture of that one.  I think when I was knitting the first half I finished that clue in the early evening and there wasn't enough light to get a good picture, but I didn't want to stop working on it so I figured I would get a picture when I worked side 2, and then I forgot.  Once the pattern gets established things go pretty quickly.  I like rectangular shawls because the rows never get any longer.  The potential disadvantage of rectangular shawls is that the color can stripe and pool in a regular pattern, something it doesn't tend to do when the number of stitches is changing.  I know that some people can get really annoyed with that, but I just let the yarn do what it wants and I think that with Unique Sheep yarn it always comes out beautiful.  There is a very cool way to keep this from happening that Merike showed us at the retreat this past year - knit a rectangular shawl from the center out using a similar cast on to the one you use on toe up socks, just a lot longer.  The pattern is called Hawkesdene, after the place we stay at for the retreat.  I still need to make one, but it is on my list.

Pattern:  The Once and Future King by Janine le Cras
Yarn:  The Unique Sheep Eos in Roi Soleil
Needle:  US 3 (3.25 mm)

Sunday, July 26, 2015

How it all began

I first picked up a pair of knitting needles in the summer of 2000.  I was in the Physics PhD program at the University of Notre Dame having completed my master's in physics (observational astronomy) at Ball State University and having dropped out of a doctorate program at NASA Langley.  My sister Virginia and her business partner Carol were swinging through our home town on their way to Convergence (the big weaving conference held every two years), which was being held in Cincinnati.  In those days they traveled the country in a 1970s black stretch limousine that they had bought used.  They wanted some help at the show and I had the time so I went to the show with them.  At that point I didn't really know my oldest sister that well.  She is 10 years older than me and left home to pursue her own graduate degree in Fine Arts when I was only 12.  My memories of her mostly involved music, the albums that she would play in her room (they call it classic rock, now), and the sound of her playing the piano (she is quite gifted), which was directly below my bedroom.  After she left home the piano sat silent in the corner.  The memories of her piano playing inspired me to teach myself how to play and read music.  I spent a whole summer torturing my family with Christmas Carols (they were easy and I knew what they were supposed to sound like).  Eventually I had the piano tuned and took lessons.

So there we were in Cincinnati.  We had a single booth at the show and in the booth next door someone was selling knitting machines.  For the entire weekend we had to listen to that darn thing going back and forth.  The show was pretty slow.  Although things have changed in the intervening years back then fiber artists weren't that into beads.  I had plenty of time to wander the show floor and in a basket on the floor of a booth I found the yarn that ended up as that scarf, the first thing I knit without a pattern.  It is from Oak Grove Studio and is a Kid Mohair/Wool/Nylon boucle.  The color is Antique Rose.  It was in a remnants basket and I bought all that she had.  I had no idea what to do with a boucle yarn, but I loved the colors. When I got home from the show I bought How to Knit by Debbie Bliss and jumped right in, teaching myself on cheap yarn from the craft store.

Once I had gained some confidence I pulled out the yarn and tried to figure out what to do with it.  In the end I decided to make a scarf.  I knit it in seed stitch so there wouldn't be a wrong side.  I just cast on some stitches and started knitting and didn't stop until I had used up all the yarn.  By this time I had switched from Physics to the History of Science and was a teaching assistant for an American History class.  One of the things we had to do was watch some movies, like The Birth of a Nation.  Another one we had to watch was The Deerhunter, a film that I really didn't want to see, but had to, so I spent the entire movie knitting on that scarf.  It was while in grad school that I also got in to the habit of knitting during class and while reading (especially when I had to read Philosophy).

As I mentioned, the show was pretty slow, so we all ended up doing some beading in the booth.  Carol was playing around with lentil beads and so we all made spiral rope bracelets using lentils and embellished with pressed glass flowers, leaves and daggers.  I still have mine.

While I was wandering the show floor I also found some fabric that I just had to have.  I was walking by a large booth and I saw a bolt of purple batik fabric on a wire rack shelf.  The booth was St Theresa Textile, a local business.  I walked into the booth and pointed at the bolt of fabric and said "I must have that fabric."  The young lady smiled at me and asked "How much would you like?"  I thought for a few seconds and said "Five yards."  I had no idea what I would make out of it, but I figured if I bought five yards I should have plenty of options.  My sister Liz and I had taken sewing lessons when we were young and I had done some sewing while in high school and had taken the family sewing machine (a Singer in a nice wooden sewing desk) when I had moved out.  With the sewing machine stowed and a wooden tray over the opening it made a nice table.  Once back in South Bend I went down to the local JoAnn's and spent an afternoon at the pattern table looking through the pattern books (these days I do all of that online) and in the end I found a Retro Simplicity pattern 9192, which would make good use of the quantity of fabric I had purchased (even back then I hated leftovers) and whose simple lines would showcase the batik design.
I purchased some purple satin for the contrast sleeves and collar, but skipped the belt.

I didn't work for my sister again until 2002.  By then I had dropped out of graduate school and gone back to work.  I was living in Philadelphia and working at Lockheed Martin in Moorestown New Jersey.  I had kept crafting and regularly ordered beads from her bead store, so we had more regular contact.  When she mentioned needing help at the Bead & Button show I jumped at the opportunity.  I was able to fly to the show and as my airport van was approaching our hotel I saw their black limousine ahead of us at the light.  We had a lot of fun and I've been working the show with her ever since.  That first year was the only year that I flew to the show.  The next year she had me pick up gridwall at a place in Philadelphia and I started driving to the show and bringing the booth infrastructure while they shipped the stock and flew.  Back then I had a full sized Caprice Classic Station wagon, complete with "wood panel" sides.  That was a great car for hauling things in.  I could fit all of the booth stuff and still take my sister and Carol to the airport even with all of their luggage.

In 2005 my folks decided that I needed to get a new car, so when I went to the show I mentioned it to Virginia and Carol and asked them if they wanted the car.  We have a habit of passing cars on in my family.  I had gotten the station wagon from our parents when they decided to buy a smaller car.  Knowing that my sister didn't have a lot of money I offered the car to her.  She jumped at the offer and rode back to Yellow Springs with me.  She helped me pick out the Element and I helped her pack up the paintings (we had to remove the canvas from the frames) that she had left behind when she went out West all those years ago.  She packed up the station wagon with lots of things that she had left behind and I packed up the Element and we parted for another year.  Over the years we've gotten to know each other one intense week at a time.  We have done one other road trip together in 2006 when Convergence was held in Grand Rapids Michigan a week after the Bead & Button show.  It was at that show that I got to try out weaving.  On that particular drive from Milwaukee to Yellow Springs we drove through a horrendous thunder storm in Indiana.  We had gotten off the interstate (she likes the back roads) and we drove for hours through driving rain and even some flooded streets.  I had a Dell Mini with cellular wireless and we were tracking the storm on it as we drove.  The storm was moving the same direction that we were and we just couldn't get away.  Eventually we managed to get ahead of it, but it caught up to us shortly after we made it to Yellow Springs.  It was epic. We still talk about that drive.

Saturday, July 25, 2015

Once and Future King - Clue 2 Done

The second clue came out yesterday morning, so I spent a fair bit of yesterday keeping watch on the Clue 2 discussion thread making sure I answered questions that arose as promptly as I could.  There weren't too many, which is good.  That means we did a pretty good job with the instructions.  One question that did not come up this time was the bead placement.  The key says "knit and bead" instead of "bead and knit".  When we've had it the other way we always get questions.  The one thing that did come up was image resolution of the clue chart.  We've had this issue come up before, but not everyone is affected.  It is noticed most by folks that use KnitCompanion, a great knitting app that I've used as well, but not everyone that uses the app has issues.  I don't know if this is because some folks have the higher resolution iPads and those are the ones noticing the resolution.  I know that we certainly notice the resolution difference on our HD TV between regular programming and HD programming.  Anyway, I spent a fair bit of last night working on addressing that issue and sending samples to a couple of people to try out to see if I fixed things.  It was fun because we were collaborating in real-time via email and on Ravelry.  I hope I have it all fixed.  I sent Laura an updated Clue 2 file this morning to send out to everyone.  We'll see what the reaction is and then I'll update the rest of the clues.

I also spent some time last night on the test knit.  We've had to modify the design because of yarn constraints, and I've been going back and forth with the designer on the modifications.

Pattern:  The Once and Future King by Janine le Cras
Yarn:  The Unique Sheep Eos in Roi Soleil
Needle:  US 3 (3.25 mm)

Tuesday, July 21, 2015

Andromeda Cape - First Border Done

Slightly mysterious, emerging from the shadows, a little out of focus, but the colors are better than most of the other photos I've taken.  I finished up the first border earlier this evening and snapped a quick picture before picking up the stitches for the second border.  I used up all of skein 2 on the first border, and a little bit of skein 1.  I would have had enough for the border if I hadn't switched to skein 2 one row early.  It was a stupid mistake on my part, but I didn't feel like back tracking and fixing it.  The instructions said "end on a knit row", which is what I did.  Forgetting that in the original pattern a "knit row" equated with a purl row in my modified version.  Oh well.  The last repeat of the first border is worked with skein 1.  Not bad, and I doubt that anyone will even notice it, and who cares if they do.  The shawl is asymmetric on purpose.

I also screwed up the stitch count in my spreadsheet that I use for determining transitions because of an error in the pattern that I didn't catch until I was knitting that section.  The pattern says to repeat the first border chart 80 times, but in fact you repeat it 160 times - there are 6 rows in that chart, but you're only taking care of 3 stitches of the body with each repeat.  I doubled the rows of the original first border chart (12 rows as opposed to 6), so my border chart gets repeated 80 times.  In the end it didn't really matter because it wouldn't have changed when I did my transitions between skeins.

Pattern:  Andromeda Shawl by Janine le Cras (converted into a cape)
Yarn:  The Unique Sheep Verve in Magic Mirror
Needle:  US 5 (3.75 mm)

Sunday, July 19, 2015

Andromeda Cape - First Border One-Quarter Done

I've been working pretty steadily on the first border.  I have a bit of a love-hate relationship with knit on borders.  I do love the way they look, but they get so boring and I can't read while I knit them.  I have to have something on the television to keep me from going completely bonkers with boredom.  As I mentioned in my previous post I modified the border pattern by putting plain wrong side rows between all of the lace patterning rows.  It really opens up the pattern, and cuts the repeats in half.  It's hard to see without blocking.  The original has a string of tight little rosettes.  I like the way they look, but I also really like how this extended version is turning out.  I still wish that I could get a good picture of the colors of this yarn.  It is so reach.  The skein I'm working with right now is like velvet teal.

I discovered an interesting glitch in one of the charting programs that I use (Stitchmastery).  When I was putting the clues together for Once and Future King I noticed that the chart for clue 1 had been created as if it were knit in the round instead of flat.  I noticed this when I was increasing the font of the row and column numbers because all of the row numbers were on one side of the chart.  So I edited the chart diagram properties and changed it to be knit flat.  The row numbers re-adjusted themselves accordingly.  What did not change, however, was the key.  The original key had only the right side definitions, but when I made the change to knit flat the wrong side definitions did not appear.  The key did not change at all.  And I didn't notice that when I was increasing the font size of the key prior to exporting it as a jpeg.  I always find it interesting what the brain does and does not notice.

In the end I actually had to create a dummy chart with the symbols just so I could output a key with both the right side and wrong side instructions.  And then I forgot one of the stitches.  Sigh.  Needless to say confusion resulted.  I always feel terrible when I screw up like that.  Even though my test knitting and tech editing is not being done as a paid professional, I still take it very seriously and want to get everything just right.  I think my drive for perfection has been accentuated by my job as a safety engineer for the Navy.  In my job the details matter and so does getting it right.  The down side is that I often come home mentally exhausted, and so I miss things in my vocational activities.

I have also come to realize that the best way to tech edit a pattern is to test knit it.  Janine asked me to proof read an early draft of this pattern and I missed a number of things that I have found since I have been knitting the pattern.  It is interesting the different ways that the brain engages the material depending upon what you're doing with it.

Pattern:  Andromeda Shawl by Janine le Cras (converted into a cape)
Yarn:  The Unique Sheep Verve in Magic Mirror
Needle:  US 5 (3.75 mm)

Saturday, July 18, 2015

Andromeda Cape - Fourth Transition

I took a break from my test knit today because I ran into a little issue that I need to work out with the designer before I can continue, but I'm enjoying a little down time and working on my Andromeda Cape.  I finished up the body today and have started on the first border.  I switched to skein 2 on the last row of the body (row 120).  You can actually see the join in the picture.

Because I'm doing this as a cape I had to tweak the first border a little.  I started out with 6 rows of garter stitch, slipping the first stitch on the right side rows and working the last stitch together with one of the edge stitches.  I also modified the border pattern - stretching it out - so that I don't have to work lace patterning on the wrong side rows because I just wasn't up for that.  In essence I pretended that all of the rows in the chart were right side rows and the wrong side rows just weren't being shown.  I am also not working the yarn over, k2tog at the beginning of the right side rows.  Instead I'm slipping the first stitch.  I ended up recharting the border just to make it easier on my brain (which has to work hard enough during the week).

I also got an email today that my Solar Flare yarn has shipped, which is very exciting.  I worked out the modifications to make that shawl into a cape and recharted everything.  I think it will be very cool.  I still need to get beads for that shawl, and also for my Evenstar Cape.  It looks like lots of folks will be joining me for that knit along, which I figure I will start over the Labor Day weekend.  It is very exciting for me to be leading a knit along.  I'm planning on making it a teaching opportunity for me to teach folks how to go about doing a cape conversion.  I've helped a few people to do that (I seem to be getting a bit of a rep), but have never done something on this scale before.  I'm looking forward to it.

Pattern:  Andromeda Shawl by Janine le Cras (converted into a cape)
Yarn:  The Unique Sheep Verve in Magic Mirror
Needle:  US 5 (3.75 mm)