Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Christmas Sweater for Izzy the Iggy

I planned no knitted gifts for Christmas 2008. However, the best laid plans don't always work out.

The Monday before Christmas, my daughter called me and during the conversation told me that her Italian Greyhound, Izzy, was cold and in desperate need of a Christmas sweater, because ALL of her Doggy Friends had Christmas Sweaters, and Izzy needed to keep up with the in crowd.

When she got Izzy last spring, I knitted her a blue sweater, but the need was for a RED one for the Holidays.

Well, what is a Mom to do when confronted with a need like this? Of course, off to Michael's I went in search of Christmas Red yarn. I bought a skein of Red Lion Brand Wool Ease for the body, and used some off white Wool Ease in my stash for the collar. I used size 6 needles. I started it on Tuesday, and did not finish it until Christmas Day, but if Izzy was disappointed, she never let on.

I used the same sweater pattern as last spring the Italian Greyhound Sweater Pattern that was posted by an Iggy owner some time ago. The original website is gone, however the pattern has been made available in an archive. I just hope it does not go away. It is truly a nice pattern, even though it is brief and has no illustrations.

This little pattern is simple 1x1 rib and fits an IG well - which is not true of most dog sweaters and this breed. The ribbing stretches easily to allow the sweater to be taken on and off without stressing the dog, and it also does not bag.

I would love to develop a machine knitted pattern, but this pattern is one that does not directly translate to the machine. You begin it at the collar and knit it to the tail in one piece. I took the time to draw a schematic this time that I can use to develop a machine knit - but it will have to be in pieces and then sewn together.

Izzy no longer has to hang her head in shame. She is as festive as her friends! The crisis has been averted!

Tuesday, December 16, 2008

Putting on the Heat

As our knitting machines age, a very common problem for the Brother/Knitking machine carriages is to have the MC button that controls the fairisle selection stuck to the thread lace button below it. These sticky buttons are caused by grease oil and gunk that hardens inside the carriage.

Today, I got out my Knitking Bulky 270 to do a little fairisle on a Christmas Gift and the buttons were stuck hard together like they had been welded. I got out the machine lube and sprayed the underside of the carriage. I turned the carriage upside down and waited a while. When I came back, the buttons were just as stuck as before.

I pondered on this a while, very frustrated. I was ready to knit my project and did not want further delays. Suddenly, I thought about the hair dryer.
I decided to try warming up the gunk to see if the button would release. I held the running hair dryer to the underside of the carriage for maybe a minute to warm all the gunk up. The next time I pressed the button it had been freed!

I am a very happy camper.

Friday, December 12, 2008

Swatch Abuse Takes a Turn with Cotton

Here in Texas, cotton is King. I love to wear it. It is cool and very practical. I live in my jeans and T-shirts for much of the year.

I think one of the nice things about jeans, is that when you put them on out of the wash, they may not be too comfortable at first, but wear them a while and they fit like a glove as the cotton stretches when it is worn.

Knit sweaters from cotton can be a big disappointment. Just like the jeans, you put them on, and they begin stretching mostly sideways until you are wearing a sack, or can not even keep the shoulders where they belong. It does not matter if the sweater is hand knit or made by machine the stretch happens unless you have done something to prevent it.

For years, when machine knitting with cotton, I have combated this tendency by plaiting a thin strand of a more stable yarn - like a 2/30 acrylic - on the wrong side of my cotton sweaters. This stable yarn helps keep the cotton from stretching. However, the plaiting yarn does change the hand of the fabric and also makes the garment less comfy sometimes.

A while back I was reading an old Spin-Off magazine. I have no idea which one, but I think it was from the middle 90's. There was a photo of a handspun cotton sweater and for some reason I stopped and read what the author had written about it. Often I just skip over reading this type of information, but for some reason I did not this time.

The author wrote that her cotton sweaters never stretch out to where she can not wear them. The secret she said is in how the original swatch is treated before the gauge is taken.

She advised knitting the swatch, then stretching it width wise several times firmly. She then washed it in hot water and dried it in a hot dryer to encourage it to shrink all it was going to.

When the swatch has been washed and dried, do not take your gauge yet. Instead, grab the swatch and pull it hard horizontally several times, stretching it as much as you can. Set the swatch aside for a day. Now measure the swatch and calculate your gauge.

I wanted to make the Take A Turn Sweater from Mary Anne Oger's Knitwords magazine. I absolutely adore this magazine, and I think all Machine Knitters should be subscribers to it. Mary Ann is currently offering this pattern for free on the website so you can get a sample of the types of patterns in the magazine.

I went into my stash, and grabbed the first cone that was a color I loved. This turned out to be a 2/16 cotton yarn in a beautiful blue. I decided to try out the knitting with cotton hint from the old Spin Off magazine to see how it worked rather than plait the cotton as I usually do.

I used the yarn triple stranded on my Knitking Compuknit IV standard gauge machine. I cast on 60 stitches at tension 8 and sampled the hem technique used in the pattern. Next I put in some waste knitting and made a standard tension swatch. I put in some more waste knitting and sampled the cable technique used in the pattern. Then I stretched, washed, dried and stretched the swatch as advised in the article. Finally, I measured the swatch and calculated my gauge.

I almost always use Designaknit to chart my sweaters in my gauge, since I never use the yarn called for in the pattern. I decided since there were lots of cables to keep track of, I would create a stitch pattern that exactly fit my sweater marking all the cable crossings. I was really glad I took the time to do this for this particular sweater.

When I laid out the sweater on the stitch pattern, I discovered that the cables were falling off the shoulders of the sweater. I should have expected this, because I had stretched the cotton swatch sideways resulting in fewer stitches per inch than on the original garment.

The pattern called for seven stitches between each cable pattern. On my sweater, I rearranged this to five stitches between each cable pattern to make everything fit. I made three quarter length sleeves, and decided to add some additional cables on the bottom of each sleeve not called for in the pattern.

When I made the sweater, it seemed really long coming off the machine. The sweater pieces were stretched, washed, dried and stretched just as for the swatch. I then assembled the sweater using the yarn from the unravelled swatch. I also used this preshrunk yarn in the neckband trim. I think using unwashed, unshrunk yarn would cause puckers in the sweater once it was washed.

I have worn the sweater now, and I am happy to report that the wide neckline in the sweater does not fall off my shoulders. It certainly would have if I had not abused the swatch prior to taking my gauge. The sweater does not grow and grow and is as comfy as an old sweatshirt. I will be using this technique for knitting with cotton from now on.

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Baby Blankets Completed!

This was a really fun project, perfect for my level of weaving expertise - which is not much. I think this is the fifth warp that has been on my loom since I have owned it.

Since the yarn was not expensive ($15 for everything) and there was no sizing pressure, I could just relax and enjoy the entire process. I am so glad that Leigh inspired me do do this. We all need to have this sort of project that is not intended to be impressive, but just to enjoy. In fact, I am so tempted to go out and beam up another couple of blankets while the weather is temperate. Pretty soon, I won't be able to weave because it will be too cold in the weaving studio garage.

Project Data:

Width in reed: 36"

Warp length: 3.5 yds

Finished width before washing: 32"

Finished length before washing: 90"

Yarn: Bernat Baby Coordinates, Self Striping in Pink and Purple, 404 yds per skein = 5.25 oz, Sport Weight, Yarn weight symbol 3

Number of skeins used: 5 for weaving, 1 for edgings.

Sett: 8 epi

Warp ends: 292 last 2 dents doubled on each side for selvage.

PPI: half at 8 and half at about 12

Weave Structure: Plain Weave

Breakthroughs: It is possible to get a warp on the loom without missed dents and crossed threads. This is a first for me and I hope a trend.

Lessons Learned:
  • Watch PPI when beating. Aim for balance.
  • When using a patterned yarn, pay close attention to the way the shuttle bobbins are begun and stopped to avoid uneven patterns or striping in the final woven project.

When I finished weaving the length for the first blanket, I noticed I was really eating up the weft yarn. I finally realized that my PPI was about 12 instead of being an even 8 to match the sett. So, on the second blanket, I made an effort to beat more lightly and get to about 8 PPI.

I was then worried that the first blanket was going to feel like a board when it came off the loom. After washing and drying, I can not tell that much difference between the two. Both are nice. When I examine the second one I can tell the PPI is looser, and the hand is more drapey, but the first one is fine as well. The babies who get them should be very snugly.

The crochet edgings are done and I have blocked both blankets. It has been a while since I crocheted, and I had forgotten the rules for spacing the initial row of single crochets.

On the first blanket, I got the single crochets too close together. When the rest of the edging was added, it rippled a little bit. So, on the second blanket I stretched the sc's out a bit and when I got finished the edge was pulling in a little.

This was all fixed with steam. Both of them look wonderful after blocking. The edgings took almost an entire skein of yarn. Crochet really eats it up.

Edging Patterns:

Blanket 1: Base row 1 - Begin in the middle of one side,SC around blanket edge, 3 SC in corners, sl ends together c2, turn. R2 - HDC around 3 HDC in corners, sl end together. Ch 3 turn. R3 - *Skip 2 st, 3 DC in next st. Repeat from * around. At corners add a ch 1 between the DC clusters and make them come out close to the corner. Join with a sl st. Ch 1 Do not turn. R4 - Crab stitch around putting 1 st in the top of each DC from the row below and 1 in corners. To crab stitch, work sc from left to right - opposite the normal direction

Blanket 2: Base row 1 - Begin in the middle of one side,SC around blanket edge, 3 SC in corners, sl ends together c1, turn. R2 - Sc around with 3 SC in corners sl ends together. R3 - HDC around, 3 HDC in corners, sl ends together, ch1 turn. R4 - SC around, 3 SC in corners, Sl end together, c3 turn. R5 - 2 DC in same stitch as Ch, (sk 2, Ch3, 2DC in next S). Repeat between () around. Fasten off.

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Let the Weaving Commence

Inspired by Leigh over at Leigh's Fiber Journal, I decided to weave some baby blankets out of good old acrylic yarn in plain weave.

I am not a very experienced weaver, and I figured it does not get much simpler than this. I think this is the fourth warp I have put on my loom so every one is a learning experience.

The yarn I picked is Bernat Baby Coordinates Sweet Stripes in a pink and purple self striping colorway. The stripes are fairly long, so I figured the blanket will at least not be too boring. I bought 4 skeins of yarn, and may need another one. It is plentiful if I do so I am not too worried about it. I plan to finish the edges in crochet like Leigh did with hers.

I made the warp three and a half yards long and plan to get two blankets out of it. The warp used about two and a half skeins. of yarn. I am using a sett of 8 epi. I have spent the last week in spurts in my weaving studio (aka the garage) putting the warp all across my 36 inch 4 harness loom. I have to time my weaving to days when the temperature is pleasant. Fortunately, the weather here in Texas is beautiful right now.

I am a very slow warper, but that does not mean I don't have mistakes. The last time I warped the loom it took me about 10 hours to straighten out all the crossed threads and threading errors. I must be getting a little better at it, because this warp had no crossed threads at all. (of course this time I threaded the loom 1-2-3-4 all across) I was able to tie on and start my weaving.

When I warped the loom, the warp colors got randomized, because I still can not hold the warp and thread the reed in order - a la Debbie Chandler's instructions. (did I mention I am a self taught weaver?) I have a random number of pink then purple threads all across the warp. If I had been going in order, I suspect it would have been about 3 threads each color in a straight pattern but we will never know.

Today, I finished tying the warp on and started weaving with the self striping yarn. What I had not thought of was winding the shuttle bobbins with a plan. The self striping yarn makes even stripes, and before I realized the consequences, I got one stripe that is not the same size as the others. I don't think the baby will care though so I am leaving it in.

Now when I wind the bobbins, I have a definite starting and stopping point on the yarn pattern and I think the rest of the stripes will be about the same size based on how hard I beat. I have not quite mastered keeping that even yet. I think it is another case of more time needed in the chair.

The baby shower is 2 weeks away. There is nothing like a deadline for motivation.

Sunday, November 16, 2008

My Head Hurts

I've spent the last two days at a Spinning Seminar with none other than Spinning Diva, Patsy Zawistoski, and my mind is about to burst with all the new knowledge I have gained. The photo shows only a few of the samples from the weekend.

On Saturday, we spent the day learning how to spin several types of Novelty Yarns. If this had been the only thing offered, I might not have signed up because I really don't like lumpy bumpy spinning. Instead of being boring and uninteresting, like I half expected, it was a wonderful day. Spinning those lumpy bumpy yarns was way more fun than I ever imagined.

We learned what kinds of yarn we normally spin - soft, medium or hard. My normal spinning is soft it turns out. That was a surprise to me. I would have thought it was medium at least. We learned how to make a sample for our records (now maybe I need to actually keep some) and we learned how to Miss America ply for short, quick samples. This is similar to Andean plying and saves having to locate a ball winder when you only have a little yarn to be plied.

What kind of yarn you spin is important to some of the techniques for the novelty yarns. Different yarns require components that are spun at certain hardness's.

Next we learned how to make a cabled yarn. I had read the procedure for this before, but had never tried doing it. Cabled yarns are a four ply made from two two ply yarns. Some of the plying is done "S" and some is done "Z". It is really important to have the right amount of twist in so your yarn does not fall apart.

As the day progressed, we learned to make bumps in our yarn on purpose. We made core wrapped yarns where the core was a sewing thread and the same thread was used as a binder. The other fiber was mohair locks. Now I know what to do with some of the mohair I have accumulated. We also found out what happens when you ply a single with woolly nylon serger thread.

All in all the day of the seminar I was NOT looking forward to was wonderful. Would the seminar day I wanted most be disappointing in comparison?

Today, the seminar was on "Silk, the Queen of Fibers". Patsy started out talking about the different types of silk we might find to spin and told us about how they were prepared. She then passed out part of a silk cap for us to spin samples from. We spun some Cinnamon Tussah Silk, and plied that with the silk cap single for another beautiful yarn.

Patsy had us spin from ten different types of silk preparations. We learned how to evaluate each type as far as ease of spinning and what type of speed worked the best on each one. We talked about possible uses for each type of silk. We prepared some silk cocoons for spinning. We had lots of fun blending various silk waste products with wool. Patsy had some cut silk waste, some short waste and some sari silk waste and showed us how to blend them into plain wool for a unique and special yarn.

Patsy had a wonderful record card for us to keep our samples on. The card ends up with samples of each of the original fibers plus the end resulting yarn. It is really a great reminder of what we did and what we learned. I wish I was disciplined enough to keep this record for all my spinning. The cards for the novelty yarns end up with the yarn recipe on them. Often, I never look at workshop materials once the workshop is done. I know that is not true for this workshop though. We ended up with very useful stuff.

Some of todays knowledge was not silk specific, but will be a help to all my spinning. Patsy taught us the proper way to evaluate the wraps per inch of a yarn or single. She gave everyone a stick for this and told us how to mark it. We learned how to count the actual number of revolutions a particular whorl will give when spinning so that can be part of the records for the yarn. We learned how to make a sample card so we can keep a yarn consistent no matter how long it takes to spin. We learned how to ply a yarn that has spent too many days on the bobbin and seems to have lost it's twist. We talked about the different types of wheels and tensioning systems. We learned about the differences in Scotch Tensions and why some brake bands are fine if they are fishing line and others require a soft string.

So, I definitely was not disappointed today either. Patsy is a wonderful, organized instructor. I guess her experiences teaching preschoolers are a big help for teaching spinners. She carefully explains the "why" in her instructions. She is not a "my way or the highway" type instructor at all. If you have a chance to take any spinning seminars from Patsy, clear your calendar so you can go and run don't walk. This was a totally awesome weekend, worth the headache from all the knowledge that was pounded in.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Kettle Dyeing for Turkeys

I thought it might be useful to document my latest fiber dyeing escapade. I am terrible about taking notes or keeping dye records. Everyone who dyes fiber does things a little differently, so perhaps someone will find this interesting.

Last week, Wal-Mart had their electric turkey roasters on sale for $22. This is the sort of thing I had been waiting for. I had been wanting a new dye pot, and this seemed like the perfect choice.
The Turkey Roaster is sort of like a large crockpot, but better since there are more temperatures to choose from. This roaster will never see a turkey or food, since it is contaminated with dye.

Last weekend I had to try it out. I kettle dyed some bats of Romney wool. It is always hard for me to decide what colors I would like to use. I decided I need some more neutrals, since I don't have much neutral yarn.

I have one color of Jacquard Acid Dye called Chestnut that I had never tried - perfect for my neutral theme. I filled the roaster about half full of water and added about 1/2 cup of vinegar then left the water to heat. I filled another bucket with water and put the fiber - a bit over 8 ounces - in to soak while the water heated up.

I had an auxiliary thermometer to monitor the water temperature. I have found it is very hard to tell how hot the water actually is without the thermometer. When the water reached about 195 degrees, I added my dye - 1 cup of one percent Chestnut dye stock - and stirred to distribute the dye. I squeezed most of the water out of the fiber. Next I put the fiber into the dyepot and pushed it gently down into the dye. I adjusted the temperature to keep the pot hot but not boiling, covered the pot and left it for about a half hour. Then I turned it off and left it until it was completely cool.

At that point, the fiber had taken up all of the dye in the pot. I removed the fiber and put it into some warm water to rinse out the vinegar, then squeezed out the water and left the bat to dry.

I repeated this a couple of times over the next 2 days, using the same water and vinegar that was in the pot. The water was clear, so there was no problem with getting the colors mixed. Once I used about 1/4 cup of the same Chestnut dye which resulted in a pretty dark gold.

The other time I used black dye. My black dye stock is a 5 percent solution since I usually want strong color when I dye with black. I only used 1/4 cup of the strong dye stock. The fiber did not use all of the dye after the 30 minutes in the hot dye water, so I added additional dry fiber on top to take up the excess dye.
The fiber that was at the bottom of the pot is a dark charcoal. The fiber from the top of the pot is a beautiful silver gray. If I wanted really black fiber, I would need to overdye the charcoal again with black.

Kettle dyeing does not produce an even color. The fiber has dark and light spots. This works out fine though when the yarn is spun it has nice color depth.