Friday, December 13, 2019

Jovi Mittens : knitting with qiviut

In February, I published a mitten pattern with Windy Valley Muskox.  It takes about 1 1/2 skeins of this fabulous yarn so you'll have to buy two.  Of course, you could make the cuffs longer!  I'm thinking I need a version with fingers (aka gloves).  It's on the back burner, for the moment.  

In the meantime, let me tell you how lovely it is to work with qiviut!  It is one of the softest fibers, definitely the lightest, and so warm for the weight; it's best as a light layer under others, and luxurious close to the skin.  Sometimes, people misunderstand and think that qiviut comes from the inside coat (I'm not sure how to imagine that), or the underbelly of the muskox; that's because it is often described as the "under coat."  What this actually means is that it's the down layer, and grows during the cold months, closer to the skin, all over the animal; it's like down feathers on a duck.  I worked for WVM for several years, designing patterns, providing technical support, photography, lots of little odds and ends.  Qiviut can be hard to find and pricey, but this yarn, their Majestic Blend, (15% qiviut, 80% wool, 5% silk) makes buying it a little more affordable, while still yummy to knit.  Although, I warn you, stopping to pet the fabric can slow you down!

I understand that 100% qiviut is actually machine washable, as it doesn't have scales and won't felt or shrink, but I've never thrown my qiviut in the machine.  It is handmade, after all; I don't want to find out the hard way that I didn't weave the ends in well!  The wool in some blends is NOT machine washable but can be soaked and blocked.  

I've stepped down from my position at WVM to spend more time with my growing boys, but I'm still a fan and will be knitting with their yarns every chance I get.  And luckily I've got a decent stash of it.

Does it go without saying that it makes great gifts?

Have you worked with luxury yarns?  

Sunday, December 1, 2019

handspun swoncho

When I started working for Windy Valley Muskox, I had the pleasure of traveling with and getting to know the owner, Dianne.  She is a fantastic spinner!  Originally, we were introduced through some of my knitting friends who are part of her family.  I started out with WVM designing a pattern.  Once Dianne saw my finished pattern with modeled shots, she hired me to reshoot several patterns, and eventually I shot all of her product photos, provided pattern support, and went to several trade shows.  Traveling together to yarn shows, we became friends.  

At one of the yarn shows, we discovered the Glenfiddich Wool Swoncho in the booth across from ours, and thought it was really cute.  One size, easily modified, it looked great on everyone who tried it on.  Later that summer, I was visiting Dianne's ranch, and she gave me a bag of her handspun yarns to knit with.  She can knit, but doesn't spend as much time on it as I do; I will never be able to spin like her, though she has given me a lesson or two!  We agreed that, at some point, I would knit a swoncho for her, and she would spin some yarn for me.  Years went by, Dianne sold the business, and we lost touch somewhat.  

Fast forward a few years to this past summer, and I was telling someone about the yarn and pattern.  Inspired, I dug up the pattern and yarn from among my many projects.  Many knitters have told me they don't use their special yarns because they're afraid to ruin it.  Here I was, doing the same thing, and I realized that the yarn was sitting, being of no use.  Reading through the pattern, I thought the worst that can happen is I end up ripping it out.  Seems like a small risk when on the other hand, I could end up with something really beautiful!  I laid the yarn out and got started.  After a couple of weeks, I had this wonderful swoncho!

Dianne was in town to see family for Thanksgiving and I had the opportunity to stop by and surprise her with the finished swoncho, all these years later.  It looks pretty terrific on her - she loved it.  (Although I had to try it on before I gave it away.  You understand, right?!  Thanks to my middle son, who snapped some shots for me.) 

What's a swoncho?  Simple; it's a poncho with sleeves - a sweater-poncho. 

 the front? 

Most of the ribbing is Dianne's qiviut/silk - SO lucious!!   

Do you have a precious skein, yard of fabric, vial of beads that you're holding on to?  What are you saving it for?

Thursday, November 21, 2019

today's snow

Snows, like snowflakes: there are never two alike, and not all snows yield good snowflakes for photographing.  

a January snow

a November snow

Any snow day is a good day for knitting.  Or reading.  Or looking at old photographs.  I was tempted to stay inside but I was in and out all day so I thought I might as well head down to the park and see what I could find.  No good snowflakes, but some lovely little ice globes on pine needles.  I'm knitting a Christmas present, and enjoying Lark Rise to Candleford.  It's time to break out the seasonal favorites

If it is snowy tomorrow, I might get around to making some pizzelles.  Who knows! 

What's your favorite snow-day craft??  

Sunday, November 17, 2019


Grief, for a life that was lost, in a culmination of senseless turns.  But thankfulness for all the life around, SO many things, and knowing that God is worthy of praise, even on the bad days.  

Wednesday, November 6, 2019

books and knits

Knitting, he thought, was a comfort to the soul.  It was regular.  It was repetitious.  And in the end, it amounted to something.
-At Home in Mitford

On the needles, I have a "swoncho" - a sweater-poncho hybrid, with some handspun yarns from a friend.  More on this later, assuming it turns out alright, or even maybe if it doesn't.  I finished the red sweater that I blogged about here and here.  It fits perfectly!  Next time, long sleeves.  

In October, I finished reading Elizabeth Zimmermann's Knitter's Almanac.  The casual, journaling voice, wise without being pushy, made for a great late summer / early autumn read.  I thoroughly enjoyed EZ's commentary on life, on her companion, the Old Man, and their car trips; she ties in new projects to the season beautifully, and then gives you the information to make your own, and make it your own.  I was sad when I finished it but I suppose I may read it again sometime.  

I'm currently re-reading At Home in Mitford, by Jan Karon.  After which, perhaps I will set aside time to find something new.

More books and knits at Ginny's Yarn-a-long...

Happy yarning along, and happy November to you.  

Monday, November 4, 2019

Blocking Basics for Knitters

I taught beginning knitting classes for more than five years, and advanced classes at least three.  One of the comments I hear most often from students is that they're afraid to block their project because they don't want to ruin it.  

I decided to post about that so I can have a handy place to point people to when I'm asked.  And maybe you'll learn something new, too!

First, yes, you can get your wool wet.  Think about it, the sheep stand outside all day, dunk their heads in troughs for a cool drink, and occasionally hit a puddle.  The same goes for qiviut (muskox), cashmere, camel, bison, alpaca, etc.  What you don't want to do is agitate your wool, and this is one of the reasons why we don't throw hand knit sweaters in a washing machine.  Another reason is because it's handmade.  Not all fibers and fabrics act the same in water - some shrink, some grow.  This is why swatching, and blocking your swatch, is so important.  In general, plant fibers often soften and "grow" because they are heavier, but animal fibers that haven't been treated will shrink, or felt.  Nylon and acrylic are essentially plastic, they're not going to change - this also means, that they're not really going to block out for a lacy edge.  Things to think about: 

-How much time are you going to invest in this project?  Forty hours?  A year?  Take one hour now and make a swatch to block.  
-How much did the materials cost? $5?  Okay, maybe don't bother.  $200?  Time to do it right!  
-Is it a gift?  Know what will happen before you send it off.  
-Will it be closely photographed?  A pattern sample, a wedding garment or special gift?  Plan ahead.  
-What is the intended use of the piece?  If you're knitting a dishcloth or towel, it's going to get wet!  If you're making a shawl for a wedding, it will probably be treated with a lot more care, perhaps stored away for special occasions.  
-Are you being paid to make it?  If yes, DO NOT skip the blocking!  Take time to save headaches later.

Here are the basic STEPS.
1.  FILL a basin, sink, bucket, or tub with cool water, and perhaps a little wool soap or wash.  I now have a dedicated bucket for big pieces.  I use a cereal bowl for swatches, and if necessary, I use my tub for big pieces. 
2.  SOAK:  Put in the piece and let it get completely soaked.  This takes anywhere from 20 minutes to overnight.  
3.  DRAIN the water.  If it is in a sink or tub, pull the plug and hold the piece back from the drain.  If in a bowl or bucket, pour out the water.  You can press down on your piece to squeeze out excess water, but don't wring it.  
4.  BLOT the piece.  Lay a towel flat and place the piece on the towel, and roll up the towel, squeezing (not wringing) the towel as you go to absorb more water.  If possible, use a towel that is close in color.  Some yarns bleed.  Some new towels could bleed on your beautiful white shawl!  
5.  PIN or BLOCK your piece.  
-Hats can be blocked on something spherical.  I have used soccer balls, balloons, goldfish bowls, bowls, vases, and mannequin heads.  Berets usually fit over dinner plates, and I set that on top of a vase.  Your specific pattern may have a recommendation.  
-Shawls and sweaters often need to be pinned to schematic dimensions.  I pin mine on a fresh, dry towel over blocking mats and/or on a spare bed.  
-Cowls can lay flat.  My mom once made this roll of towels to the dimension of her pattern to dry some cowls.  Isn't that a clever plan?!  

-Socks can lay flat or be put on sock blockers.  
-Other shapes - I have used bricks and books covered in plastic bags to hold the shape in felted bags, a flat-bottomed tea kettle for a felted, flat-topped hat.  
5b.  Make note of anything that should be MEASURED or POINTY - matching points for seaming, shawl edging, elf hats, corners on bags, etc.  
6.  Let DRY completely!!  Lace and lightweight projects may take only a few hours; felted pieces may take a few days.  Unpin, continue pattern, or wear!  

One more blocking picture - I'm sure the hammer was for something else! 

You can do it!
Have you blocked your knitting?  What room of the house do you block your handmade items in? 

Saturday, November 2, 2019

good, not perfect : red sweater details

Some background for the red yarn: in 2011, I used this yarn, Shibui sock yarn, to knit myself a Radian Yoke sweater, pictured below.  Although it fit well, the yoke didn't look as open and lacy as the sample in the magazine, and I never wore it, except for a few pictures.  Also, I'm not sure it would fit as nicely, now.  It does have lovely bust darts.  

It sat on a table for years; time for a new purpose.  With about a skein and a half still in a bag, I'd have to take the sweater apart for enough yarn for a new project.  (Literally never seeing the light of day for eight years, there should be no problem with color fade.)  The yoke was the first part knit, so I started unraveling at the bottom.  As this sort of pattern (top down) requires one to put stitches on hold and add sleeves later, and venting on the bottom meant separating into front and back, there were some smaller yarn pieces.  Eventually, it was all apart, wound around my arm for a small skein-type structure, and tied with white thread.  I soaked the yarn in water for a few days (unnecessarily long) and then got to hanging it on plastic hangers to allow gravity to dry it straight.  After that, it was ready to rewind and knit!  

Starting with the unused yarn, and then the biggest hanks, I knitted the back and front, per my chart mentioned in this post. As I was attempting to sew up the side seams, I couldn't figure out why they just would not match up.  Suddenly, I had a niggling of a memory.  Maybe I had added a repeat while sitting on the couch, watching tv - away from my computer and main pattern?  I counted the motifs on both pieces.  Sure enough, the front had ten, the back had nine.  Rather than ripping out the top half of the back - which had already been blocked, and would therefore render very kinky yarn that I should soak and hang to straighten, sigh, I decided that it would be faster to cut the bottom edge off and add a new pattern repeat, then graft.  So simple!  I bet  you're horrified, but I've actually done this before and it worked really well.  However, as I was attempting to carefully separate the main body from the cuff that the last time I did this, I remembered there was not cabling on every right-side row last time.  Whoops. 

The primary brain problem for me is how to get the cable row after the separation on to the needle correctly.  I'm sure more experience would lend more information, but I'm definitely not looking for more experience on this!  The secondary problem is that picking up stitches on the bottom of patterned knitting, i.e. ribbing means that one is working between the stitches.  It's a whole big mess.  There are several other options before you have to get to this but I thought I was taking a shortcut. Ha ha.

It is not perfect, but it's been awhile since I've done so much of the design work on a sweater.  It's a sweater I intend to wear on my chilly days around the house.  This time, a good sweater is preferable to tearing my hair (and yarn) out to make it perfect.  It fits very well, and it will be a good sweater.  If I like it enough, maybe I'll make yet another, with a different cable in the center.

Adding Sleeves:
I seamed the front piece to back on the sides completely, but on the shoulders loosely for about an inch.  I wasn't sure how small I wanted the neck opening, so I planned to come back and redo the shoulders later.  Beginning at the bottom of the arm hole, I picked up 1 stitch in each bound-off stitch, and then up the back, around and down the front, I picked up about 2 new stitches for every 3 stitches on the body; so 1:1 at bind-off, and 2:3 around the rest.  You can also do 3:4.  I don't do a lot of math for this, I already know about what size it's going to be, but here's a really good video about the picking up, and the short rows, and if you want more on the math,  you can look for the Part 1 video she has.

I mark the top of the sleeve/shoulder.  This is where I would want my pattern centered - in this case, a cable.  However, for something like Stockinette or Reverse Stockinette, there's no need.  Again, refer to the video link above for a visual on using short rows to make the sleeve cap.  I use German short rows.  Here's the shortest video I could find on that. 

Decreases are worked on the bottom of the sleeve, as with most sleeves.  As it turns out, I got too fancy and made the armscye way too big, so I decreased at the underarm for several rows after the short rows.   Once the sleeves were down to the "right" stitch count divisible by 4, taking into account gauge to match the original blue sweater, I worked in k2, p2 rib until I ran out of yarn.  I would have liked to make long sleeves, and I would probably have worked the cable pattern for most of the sleeve.  However, good over perfect is the theme.  

Finally, weave in ends, and fix that shoulder seam situation.  I tried on the sweater and marked the preferred spot to end the seams.  I pulled the loose seam out and worked a sort of modified whip-stitch from the underside, making sure the ribbing lined up.

Because so much was added after blocking - a couple inches on the back, and the sleeves, I will block it again.  In the meantime, I found a mistake I didn't even know about!  Leaving it.  It'll be plenty good!