Thursday, October 26, 2006

I just can't wait ...

Seems that the USPS has finally proposed the introduction of a stamp set that I just HAVE to HAVE:
2007 Holiday Knits
In 2007, the U.S. Postal Service will warm up for the holidays by issuing Holiday Knits, four stamps featuring classic winter-time imagery designed and machine knitted by nationally known illustrator Nancy Stahl. These beautiful stamps consist of a dignified stag, a snow-dappled evergreen tree, a perky snowman sporting a top hat, and a whimsical teddy bear.In recent years, knitting has become quite popular again, both in the United States and internationally.Inspired by traditional Norwegian sweaters and knitted Christmas stockings, Stahl decided on "something cozy" for this year's holiday stamp issuance. She used a computer software program to draw her original designs and convert them to stitches and rows. Then she downloaded the information to an electronic knitting machine and used it to knit her creations. The machine's smaller stitch gauge didn't provide quite the effect Stahl was hoping to achieve. So she transferred the designs onto punch cards and used a different knitting machine that works something like an old Jacquard loom and has a larger stitch gauge. Stahl scanned the finished pieces into her computer and retouched the photographic images to ensure that all the stitches aligned properly. The result is a set of four colorful and "cozy" stamps that will add an extra touch of warmth to seasonal correspondence.

excerpt from the site

The only complaint I have is that I have to wait until October 2007 to obtain these lovelies! [Note: I'm not a patient person -- especially when it comes to all things knitterly!]

Friday, October 20, 2006

Uh, oh .... I found a cool knit-along blog

Now, I'm really in trouble.... through this blog and that blog, I found a blog totally dedicated to Elizabeth Zimmermann -- we're talking introducing newbies to her unventions and old pros to remember the thrill of the first surprise jacket....

Zimmermania is what's called a knit-along site -- KAL, for short -- where you knit and post as you knit. You show your challenges and your accomplishments; your WIPs (works in progress) and your FOs (finished objects). If you've never read any of EZ's books, run (don't walk) to your library or local bookstore and grab them up. Here are the titles, in case you'd like to order them NOW from Amazon.

  • Knitting Without Tears -- this is the book that got me started on the path to designing my own and having fun with my knitting. My mother bought it for my sister when I was 8; I stole it and used to sneak peeks at it; I taught myself to knit from this gem.
  • Knitter's Almanac -- this is a full year's worth of projects and great advice, much of it written while EZ was on camping/fishing trips with her beloved, Old Gaffer.
  • Knitting Workshop -- is a compilation of shows that EZ hosted on a Wisconsin PBStation. [Note: often public libraries will also have the tapes that go along with this book.] She goes through some projects, but mostly teaches some all important techniques in simple words and often humorous anecdotes.
  • Knitting Around -- although all EZ's books are somewhat biographical, this one delves more deeply into the family side of EZ's knitting. There are lots of great, fun projects that EZ's classic prose walks you through and you've feel like you've really accomplished something special when you finish one of these.
  • The Opinionated Knitter: Elizabeth Zimmermann Newsletters 1958-1968 -- was published in the last year or two by EZ's daughter (and knitting partner) Meg Swansen. EZ used to have a semi-annual newsletter that was packed with projects, book reviews, news, etc -- all things knitterly. Meg compiled these first newsletters (many of the later ones have been published already; these first 10 years were collectibles!) shortly after EZ's death. This is a great book -- one that I'm hoping to squeeze into the budget or talk Santa into giving me -- that fills in some of the biographical details missing from the other books. It's a real gem and fills out the published collection of EZ's writings.

Your whole knitting experience will be enriched by reading some of EZ's writings! Guaranteed!

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Knitting as a form of Diplomacy

The next NATO Summit is scheduled for November in Latvia. Why would I care? Here's the reason:

Seems that the good people of Latvia -- from all over that small country, men and women all summer long -- have been knitting traditional mittens to give to the 4500 participants in the conference. The picture shows 2250 -- or half the final number.

These mittens are exquisite works of art -- they are some of the folk knitting that I think raises knitting from the plain old domestic craft to an art form. I love reading about, seeing, and trying out all forms of folk-knitting.

Here are some things that might pique your interest too:

The Renaissance of Latvia's Ethnographic Mittens

The Story of a 1000 Year Old Mitten

Latvian Mittens: Traditional Designs and Techniques is a fabulous book about a woman's search to find out the history of her husband's ethnic background and the knitting trail she followed. One cool thing about this book is that it is written in both English and Latvian!

Here are some excellent books about folk knitting:

Folk Bags: 30 Knitting Patterns and Tales from Around the World by Vicki Square

Folk Shawls: 25 Knitting Patterns and Tales from Around the World by Cheryl Oberle

Folk Socks: The History and Technique of Handknitted Footwear by Nancy Bush

Folk Vests: 25 Knitting Patterns and Tales from Around the World by Cheryl Oberle

Folk Mittens: Techniques and Patterns for Handknitted Mittens by Marcia Lewandowski

Andean Folk Knits: Great Designs from Peru, Chile, Argentina, Ecuador and Bolivia by Marcia Lewandowski

These are just some of the books that have fascinated me for many years. These are just the "exotic" books. There are also books about Fair Isle, Aran Islands, Bauhaus, and other ethnographic knitting styles. All are fodder for my knitting mill!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Visiting the Frog Pond *

When you're a designer, you often take a visit to the frog pond. Usually, I can avoid too long a visit by just having a small bit to undo; but this weekend was a major exception!

I had recently acquired a batch of hand-spun and -dyed blue wool yarn. The problem with handspun is I have no idea how much I I pulled out the needles, made a gauge swatch and proceeded to create a top down poncho.

This particular pattern I'm designing has a lace panel down the front (with a matching plain knit panel down the back). All of the increases then occur on the sides (or shoulder area since it's top down).

Well, I had gotten the WHOLE thing finished. I had placed a stripe of lighter blue in the center and then finished with the darker blue at the bottom. I had placed eyelets along the hem to make it easier to add fringe -- planning to use the light blue for the fringe so that all would coordinate. I finished the bind-off on Saturday evening (after having watched the silly and very family-friendly, Support Your Local Sheriff).

On Sunday, I tried the poncho on. It looked ok, but wasn't as loose as I would like. So....a trip to the frog pond. Now there are a couple of ways to "rip back" about two-thirds of what you've already done. (Well, there's a third option, but that means tossing the whole thing and starting a new project ...)

1. go to the wrong side and snip the upper loop of the same row every second or third stitch. This works best when you have a different color where you can start the "ripping". Also, with wool, the yarn sticks to itself and won't pull out till you're ready to pick up the stitches; be careful going too far ahead with the cut stitches if your yarn is slippery or really loosely knit. Using a circular needle (you can use one that is a couple of sizes smaller to ease in the pick-up of the live stitches), you pick up the stitches as the bad part is cut from the part you want to save.

2. undo the bind-off and pull the thread until you're at the point you want. Doing it this way, you'll want to rewind (loosely) the yarn every so often, else you'll have a big pile of wriggly yarn that is REALLY hard to roll into a ball -- don't ask how I know this! When you're to the point where you want to start knitting again, pick up the stitches using a circular needle the size you've been using (or one that's a few sizes smaller to ensure ease in picking up the stitches).

I did both on my pond visit for the poncho. I cut where the light blue strip attached to the upper third -- you can see the undone piece (maybe I'll felt it and make a scarf out of the already knitted piece. Then I unraveled back to the last increase rows and started knitting again. I also unraveled the dark blue bottom portion as I might need that yarn for the poncho.

Some people don't like to use knitted yarn that's been unraveled -- it's pretty bumpy. However, I tend to knit very loosely and reusing the yarn really isn't a problem because the wool hasn't been overly stretched. If you knit tightly, or the yarn is REALLY kinked, then (using a yarn swift or the back of a chair) wind the yarn into a large circle, wrap waste yarn around in about 3 or 4 places, handwash the yarn and then let dry (place a weight on the bottom of the loop to ensure the yarn dries un-kinked. When dry, wind into a loose ball.

The reason you'd want to wash the yarn if it's really kinked is that the fibers have been stretched -- this is more critical with natural fibers than man-made fibers -- and your final knitted product just won't be the same.

I'll post pictures when I'm done with this poncho -- I think it's going to look great; I've decided not to add the light blue (I have PLENTY of the dark blue wool) and I'll knit in the fringe ... I'll keep you posted

* frog pond -- because you "rip it" "rip it"

Thursday, October 12, 2006

More on the Dulaan Project

If you want more info on this very cool, charity knitting project, check out this link to an updated 2007 brochure about the project.

Saturday, October 07, 2006

Anyone want to join me ....

in offering to knit warm and cozy things for Mongolian children.

Here's the deal: Ryan Morris, owner of Mossy Cottage, has a blog where you can find out all about the Dulaan project (ignore the dates on this page, refer to Ryan's post). If you scroll down to the post about "DULAAN 10,000 or Bust" you can get all the current information for 2006-2007.

Basically, you're knitting for children in Mongolia. Commit to knitting five (which is not much folks) warm and fuzzy things by the end of June 2007. Send them to Ryan and she'll make sure they get to Mongolia. Simple, no?

I'm thinking of doing this with my littles as a homeschooling project -- we'll find out about Mongolia and make things to send. Now, that's real learning!

So, who else will commit?

How to Stay Warm and Cozy this winter

I mentioned this in an earier post -- the one suggesting using a bobby pin as a "needle" -- but never got back to posting about it.

Based on a pattern from Amy Singer's book, Knit Wit -- a collection of sometimes goofy, sometimes groovy knitted objects -- these slippers are a dream to knit and really are cozy (trust me, on the hardwood floors in early Fall mornings, they are GREAT!).

I made mine toe-up, two-socks on two-circs, using Lion Brand's Wool , using Ocean Blue Prints. Here's the before felting picture: note that the slippers are more than 12 inches long. The patterning is pretty cool, but does "puddle" a bit.

The felted version is now my foot size (9.5 inches, roughly) and the patterning is much more muted. My slippers are reverse stocking stitch with short row toe and heel.

These slippers took two skeins of the LB Wool, with just a bit left-over yarn. When doing two socks on circs, I always use two skeins -- that way if I have left over I can either make a matching hat or use the yarn as a detail in another pair! I also love to do toe-up socks so that I can make sure the sock will cover my foot and then I just keep knitting until the yarn is almost gone.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Great HOW-TO Knitting Book

My friend JennGM asked me the other day about easy how-to knit books for her to recommend to family members. Here's what I suggested:

The Knitting School, translated from Italian and published by Sterling. This is a great, all purpose how-to with nice clean drawings and clear and concise directions. It goes beyond the basics, so will grow with the knitter's level of expertise.

Another great one is Montse Stanley's Knitter's Handbook. This is a wonderful general knitting reference to have on your shelf. Don't be fooled by the fact that it's published by Reader's Digest -- it's worth every penny.

A fun one to read, although better if you've got some knitting experience is the classic Elizabeth Zimmermann book, Knitting Without Tears. This is the book that caused me to really take off with my knitting when I was little. You really are "freed" to do what you want after reading Zimmermann's prose.

Let me know if you want any other book suggestions; next to knitting, reading about knitting is my favorite thing!

Wednesday, October 04, 2006

Knitting Retreat Fall 2007

A birthday present from dh had me spending the weekend of my 45th birthday (a week ago) at a beautiful monastery up in north-west Colorado (we're talking on the border of Wyoming!). St. Walburga is an awesome spot where we (SIL and granmere) spent the weekend knitting and praying ... what more could you ask for?

Well, the Retreat director has agreed that I can lead a knitting retreat next FALL. I'm so excited! I'll be talking about designing based on all the elements necessary (color, texture, fiber, etc) as well as discussion of some of the "pros".

As the dates get firmed up, I'll be posting more. If you're in the area I think y'all would really enjoy this chance to get away, knit and pray at a beautiful Catholic spot in northern Colorado!

Tuesday, October 03, 2006

Knitting with the Classics -- what a concept!

If you notice on the sidebar, I have added a "ring" -- Knit the Classics -- is a cool idea originated by a couple of knitting and reading fanatics. The basic premise is that the group reads a book during the month -- this month is Gulliver's Travels -- and everyone comes up with a project reminiscent of the book. The project can be anything that uses fiber -- although the group started as just knitters, any fiber arts (quilting, the "dreaded" crocheting, or stitching) -- and has some connect to the book.

Pretty cool, huh?

AND, I've never read Gulliver so I have a hole in my education that needs filling ... and of course, any excuse for knitting is always a bonus!

Monday, October 02, 2006

You Gotta Use what you got -- part 2

Here's another knitting use for something non-knitting:

You know those wine glass charms that are really cool looking and come in sets of 8 or more? Here are two examples. These things come in all variety of themes and shapes, but are all about 1/2 inch long on a wire ring.

These make great stitch markers -- you could even use different "themes" for different hand-knits. They stay on the needle or you can hook them to the "yarn bar" between stitches. Really a cool way to snazzy up your works in progress.

Happy knittin!