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.