Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Mi Vida En Español

The Mayan ruins of Chichen Itza
Earlier this year, Dan & I had the incredible opportunity to spend a week in Mexico with some friends & it was one of the best trips I've ever taken.  While Seattle was still cold, rainy & nasty we enjoyed plenty of relaxing, sight-seeing, delicious food, frosty drinks on the beach & lots of opportunities to brush up on my Spanish.  Nearly every time I travel, I return with a hunger to see more, do more, learn more about the world as well as with an appreciation of how good my day-to-day life is.  Especially after visiting Mexico (even the tourist-trap, Americanized city of Cancun), I realize how luxurious life in the US is in comparison.  

Before I left, I had completed two Boob Hats for the tiny humans that a couple of acquaintances have just/will soon welcome to the world.  I gave the first one away at a baby shower just before I left & the second to a friend-of-a-friend who was visiting.  Sadly, both went to their new homes before I photographed them.  I'm not usually one for knitting baby items but a friend posted the crocheted version of this hat to my Facebook & someone asked me to make one for them.  I just happened to have some nipple-colored yarn in my stash so I tracked down some soft & yummy Karabella Aurora 8 in a matching shade & cast on.  A couple hours later, I had two boobs.  I knit the newborn size & I just couldn't get over how small they were.  These hats fit comfortably over my fist & it's crazy to think that someone's head is that small.  

For vacation knitting, I brought Sadie Bellegarde's Mermaid's Lagoon Socks pattern & the skein of Punta Merrisock Handpainted that I got from the Cornwall Yarn Shop in New York over the holidays.  The pattern was a little more complicated than I'd had in mind for vacation knitting so it progressed slowly, mostly due to the fact that all the knit stitches are knit twisted.  It looks awesome but it is tedious as hell. 

By the way, this sock is nowhere near as far along as it appears here, I just couldn't get it any farther onto my foot!

Since returning from vacation (which admittedly was a few months ago), I've also started on the Gray's Ferry Cowl by Courtney Kelley, from Knitscene Spring 2012.  Still a little burnt from my CPH, I needed something truly mindless & the socks just weren't that project.  I'm still working on them but when I want something I can just zone out with, this is my go-to project.  I even had the yarn already in my stash!  The brown yarn is Blue Sky Alpacas Sport Weight & the green yarn is Frog Tree Alpaca Sport Weight, both of which I picked up back in 2008 on a knitting group field trip to a going-out-of-business sale in Bremerton, WA.  The whitish/yellowish yarn is a mystery fiber that I got from a yarn swap around the same time.  I think they go great together!  

There appears to be a typo in the pattern (as others have pointed out on Ravelry) in which you are asked to place a marker every 30 stitches when you should be placing one every 40 stitches.  Other than that, it's an easy, laid-back project that I hope to get some wear out of during the transitional seasons (which is most of the year here).  I'm just a little concerned that it might stretch as two of the three yarns are 100% alpaca.  I knit some gloves out of alpaca a few years ago & they stretched, pilled & felted like crazy.  It's a warm, super-soft fiber but nowadays I prefer it in wool blends.  In my experience it just isn't very durable on its own.      


Friday, June 22, 2012

Out From the Inside

As you may or may not have noticed, things have been pretty quiet around here over the last couple of months.  This silence coincided with a contract I just finished at Microsoft as a member of the team that collected, tracked, compressed and distributed the 100+ videos that were used as part of Microsoft's presence at E3.  This contract started off innocently enough & for a while there, I was working from 9am to 5pm like a normal person.  This was not just refreshing but actually a little weird for someone who is used to 10-14 hour work days.  Unfortunately it was not to last as we ratcheted into a full week of 15-20 hour days as the event approached.  Now that it's all over & done with, I can finally give this blog the attention it deserves again, which I'll start doing by closing the loop on this variegated yarn swatch project I've been talking about for months!

For anyone who's forgotten (& I wouldn't be surprised if that was everyone), I took a mini-class back in February from Margaret Radcliffe on working with variegated yarns.  She spent most of the class teaching us her pattern for Rose Fabric, which involves knitting into the stitch below the one on the needle, to stretch out & break up color repeats.  She also discussed some well-known stitch patterns that best make use of short color repeats & sent us home with a pamphlet full of even more patterns for us to experiment with.  

Upon returning home, I immediately began casting on swatches in some of the stitch patterns from the pamphlet to see how they changed the look of the yarn.

Of course, I started with a plain old stockinette swatch over 15 stitches as my control:

Once I knew how the colors were naturally inclined to knit up, I cast on a Garter Rose Fabric swatch, also over 15 stitches:

To me, this didn't change much.  I still see the colors collecting in pretty much the same way they collected in the stockinette swatch.  Perhaps these swatches are too narrow, but if anything, I actually see more pooling in this swatch than the stockinette one.  This pattern does blend the colors better than the stockinette one does, but overall I'm not too crazy about it.

So I decided to incorporate a little lace by trying out a Knotted Openwork swatch over 21 stitches:

Now this one I like.  In fact it might even be my favorite.  The colors get broken up really well & they blend beautifully.  I can see using this pattern for a scarf, a pair of fingerless gloves or a cropped sweater (I actually have a cropped sweater in a similar pattern & while it's made of a solid-colored  yarn, it looks awesome).  The swatch had a bit of a bias when I knit it up but that seems to have blocked out well.

Next I cast on a Mock Honeycomb swatch over 17 stitches:

I like the sense of depth this creates but it's a little too busy for a yarn containing such contrasting colors as these.  The pattern really seems to get lost in this yarn.
I found some photos of this pattern worked into hats & jackets in more tonal colorways & they looked a lot better.  One thing Maggie emphasized is getting to know your particular colorway & what works best with it.  There's not really a one-size-fits-all solution for variegated yarns, each one responds best to a different stitch pattern.  To me, this swatch is a great example of that. 
I'm a big fan of shell patterns as the cuffs for gloves or as cowls (they also look great as the skirts of tunics but I'm not much of a skirted tunic wearer).  I also wanted to see how this yarn looked in a wider swatch so I cast on a Razor Shell swatch over a whopping 49 stitches.

I really love the way this pattern looks in this yarn.  By creating teeny bunches of color separated by strong rows of slipped stitches, the color changes compliment this pattern rather than overpowering it.  This is tied with the Knotted Openwork as my favorite swatch.  Just ignore the stair-step on the bottom left where I messed up the slipped stitches.  :)

Lastly, no selection of stitch patterns for variegated yarns would be complete without the oh-so-popular Linen Stitch.  So I cast on 19 stitches & tried it out.  I'd never knitted Linen Stitch before & I immediately understood what Erin of Doublepointed meant when she said it's a tedious stitch pattern.  I couldn't agree more & was glad when it was time to bind off.

Perhaps this stitch pattern is just not the right match for this yarn, but I'm not too excited about this swatch.  The blue & purple pooled a lot (this could also be due to the width of the swatch) & I just don't find this particularly interesting.  Plus I wouldn't want to knit anything large in this pattern as it was pretty fiddly & slow-going.

So, what did I learn from this project?  Well, oddly enough, working with such a colorful yarn cemented my preference for subtler tonal variegated yarns.  Aside from that, I learned the importance of swatching for design as well as for gauge.  I learned to look more critically at the length of the colors in a variegated yarn (as well as the relationship between those colors) & how that impacts the way they knit up.  Finding the right pattern for a variegated yarn still takes a lot of trial & error for me, but I have a better sense of where to begin those trials now.