Sunday, November 22, 2009

Getting Footprinted

Yesterday, I had the great pleasure of attending a hand knitting seminar with the inspirational Cat Bordhi. Cat is known for her innovative designs for scarves, bags and socks. It was Cat's first book on socks - Socks Soar on Two Circular Needles - that actually got me to try socks again after a disaster on double points that left me with two socks, knit the same, but totally different in size.

Cat's latest book - Personal Footprints for Insouciant Sock Knitters, is about yet another new approach to socks. The socks involve no math, no short rows and no partial knit rows. Every row is knit in the round. The fit is perfect!

The socks are personalized for the wearer, and the initial sock is developed as a foot map - or footprint template is created. Once the template is developed, it can be used over and over for more socks for the same person.

In class, Cat coached us as we developed our templates. Most of us found that we needed fewer stitches for our feet than the traditional sock pattern calls for. My Socks That Rock yarn, knitted on size zero needles, needs only 48 stitches to fit my foot.

My leg opening needs 60 stitches. It would not be easy to do this with a standard sock pattern, but in a Footprint Sock it is no problem at all! This also explains why some socks give me such a poor fit.

Footprints socks are cast on at the toe, with a very simple cast on. The toe is increased, and when it is big enough, the foot is knit straight to the first increase point. This point varies from person to person based on the topology of their foot. Some people's foot gets thicker toward the ankle very quickly, while others, like mine have a gradual slope.

When increases are needed, they are done randomly or in a pattern on the sole of the sock. This leaves the top of the sock free for whatever designs the knitter wants to incorporate. The number of increase points and increases varies from person to person. The increase points and reference lines are marked on the template by trying the socks on the template. Subsequent socks only need to be tried on the template to see where the increases and other maneuvers are needed.

Once the increases are complete, the socks are knit straight to the leg opening point. This point is at the center of the leg. The correct sock length is found by trying on the sock and stretching it at the sides until it reaches the center point of the leg.

At that point, the row is marked on the top of the sock with a marking thread. One more row is knit, and a second marking row is added. The leg opening is later cut, stitches are picked up and the leg is knit up from the opening.

Knitting continues to the heel point where the heel is decreased in a similar manner to the toe. The opening is closed later with a three needle bind off.

In addition to the easiest toe ever, Cat showed us a very stretchy bindoff that will be useful for not only socks, but for any bindoff that needs to be very stretchy. This bindoff will get lots of use, I am sure. Cat has videos of this bindoff and other techniques in the sock on YouTube.

I confess, I probably would not have tried this method for making socks unless someone made me sit down and do it. Putting this much effort into what amounts as a "sock swatch" is not my nature.

In class, I managed to get my initial footprint knitted almost to the leg opening point. Last night, I knitted almost to the heel decreases. Once the footprint is done, I can open the leg and add the cuff. Then I have to do the second sock - not my strong suit for sure. The next pair of these will definitely be done two at a time.

I have to say that so far the fit is the best ever! I think I am going to love these socks.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Saving Mr. Greenjeans

In 2008, I made a sweater published in Knitty called Mr. Greenjeans. I knitted it from my handspun yarn. I started trying to wear it, but it kept slipping down my shoulders. The fit was terrible, and so I decided to give it away. I promptly just forgot about it. The decision was made, and that was that. It was in the give away pile, however, I am very slow to actually get the box together and give something away.

Last week, at my Monday knitting group, one of the ladies brought in a sweater, knit sideways from garter stitch. The yarn was beautiful, but she was really unhappy with the fit of the sweater. She said when she put the sleeves in, that it was just weighted down, and the fit was terrible. We discussed ways to fix it so she could wear it.

The problem was all the weight of the yarn stretching out the garter stitch - which likes to grow and grow and grow. It needed to be stabilized, so we suggested crocheting a neckband to give the neck stability and stop the garter stitch from stretching. We discussed how in sewing, that a lot of stabilization is put in the neck and shoulder area, since that is the foundation that the garment literally hangs from. Sweaters don't get this stabilization, but unless the yarn is very light weight, they need something. Machine knitters often crochet a chain across the back neck, and apply the neckband over the chain. The chain helps keep the back neck from stretching.

A couple of days later, I was still thinking about that pretty sweater, and I thought that perhaps adding a slipstitch row of elastic thread would help it. Then I had an a-ha moment. That was what Mr. Greejeans needed. Maybe that sweater could also be saved.

So today, I went digging in my sewing notions and found some black elastic thread. I slip stitch crocheted with the elastic through the row where I added the neckband on the inside of the sweater. I actually did two slip stitch rows on top of each other. Then the neckband seemed a little floppy, so I did the same thing about two rows down in the ribbing from the top. I put a stitch in each purl stitch and skipped the knit stitches. In the photo, you can see where I put the elastic. It does not show at all from the outside.

I tried the sweater on, and was delighted with the new fit. The neck is now stable and I think the growing problem is solved. Mr. Greenjeans has been saved.

Friday, November 6, 2009

Drop by Drop

For several months, I have been planning a warp for the Summer and Winter Kitchen Towels in the Handwoven E-Book "Top Ten Towels on Four Shafts". In fact since June, five skeins of yarn have been scoured and waiting on the cabinet in my utility room. The time has long since passed to get them off the cabinet.

The thing that has stopped me is the number of colors of yarn that are required. The towels use five different colors of 5/2 cotton plus white. I had exactly one of those colors - white.

When I started weaving, I decided I would try to dye many of the colors called for, since I do not want to add to the large supply of yarn that I have already. The problem is I have no formal art training, so my color mixing knowledge relies heavily on what I learned from finger paints in kindergarten.

For this project, my challenge came in mixing some colors that were close to the colors used in the original pattern - although I am sure other colors would be equally pretty. I really struggled over how to mix some of the colors especially the "California Gold". I had the yellow part down, but was not sure how to get the gold part. I also needed to mix a "Dark Turk" color and a coral color.

From my earlier fiber reactive dye experiments, I learned that the mixed dye solutions can be painted onto watercolor paper, and the dried samples are pretty close to what the actual dyed cloth or yarn will be. Someplace, I also saw that a coffee filter can be substituted for the paper. So, I decided to mix a gradation of the colors between two colors in 9 steps, and try out the coffee filters as a place to preserve my samples.

I used a watercolor mixing palette, and put drops of Deep Yellow in the indentations with an eyedropper. In the first indent, I put one drop, in the second two drops and so forth all around to the last one which got 10 drops. Next, I used Chocolate Brown dye solution and in the indentation with one drop of Deep Yellow, I put 9 drops of Chocolate Brown. The two drops of yellow got 8 drops of brown and so on around. I did not put any brown in the indentation that had the 10 drops of yellow. So each basin had a total of 10 drops of dye, giving a simple formula that can be used to mix larger quantities of that same color.

Next I used a paint brush to paint little samples of each color all around the coffee filter. Now I have a good idea about how to get that California Gold color, or rather my interpretation of it, for the warp for the towels. I also have samples of the colors that can be mixed from these two colors and a rough idea of how to get the color I am aiming for.

I repeated this sampling with the rest of the dye solutions I had mixed up. Now I have lots of color samples to use for a quick reference the next time I dye yarn or fabric.

I dyed the yarn which had been scoured and skeined for three months. It is now curing in my hot water heater closet. I will be rising it in a couple of days, so soon, I will be ready to wind the Summer and Winter Towels Warp. I also dyed some muslin for my She-Knits Autumn Mystery Bag which is felted and waiting for a lining.

This was a fun exercise. It made me think of the art classes I did not get to take. I really do have a lot of colors hiding in a few jars of dye powder.