Saturday, June 27, 2015

No yarn gets left behind...

Way back in the day before you could buy ready made skeins of gradient yarns I knit this:

Knitters will recognize Kaffe Fassett's Poppy pattern, but I also used Kaffe's "Magic Ball" method for assembling colours. Essentially that means taking a whole bunch yarns, splitting them into two groups (darks and lights),  arranging each group into a sequence, breaking each yarn into 0.5-1m lengths and then knotting them together according to the sequence.  The colours were inspired by a  a Peter Dombrovskis postcard of shells on a Tasmanian beach:

There's 38 different yarns in different weights from 4ply to 12ply, a motley crew of wools, mohair, angora, alpaca silk and chenille; Jamieson and Smith, Jo Sharp, Patons, Cleckheaton, Rowan, Anny Blatt, Aarlan.

Basically, anything I could get my hands on in those pre-internet days.

Allora, fast forward 20-something years and I'm preparing to teach some classes at Sunspun. First up for the second half of the year - Slip Stitch and Mosaic Knitting.

Slip stitch knitting is one of my favourite techniques (mostly because you can knit a lot of colour with very little effort).Truth is, I really don't  need to knit any samples for this class.

But... I have a big crate of leftovers (I keep everything, 'cos all knitters know that every scrap could be useful). What's more I have trial subscriptions to Netflix and Stan atm with a couple of series queued. So it seemed to me like a few swatches were in order. And guess what I found nestled at the bottom of the crate -
Just on 50g of leftovers of the dark yarns. No sign of the light colours, so I grabbed a part used ball of Morris' 8ply (I think it's Norway); chose a really simple slipped stitch pattern and volia:

Who needs Noro?

Wednesday, June 5, 2013

Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain...

Preparations for teaching Colourwork at Morris' at the end of the month have really got me in the mood for knitting with loads of colour. But with a lot of technical editing going on at the moment in my day job, I need no brainer knitting for down time - something (probably a shawl) I can work on in front of the telly at the end of the day, without having to think about it. And I'd like to knit with something in a cosy DK or worsted weight that I can snuggle under on cold winter evenings. If you've visited the Wool Cave (my office) you'll know that I have a fairly sizable stash (ahem, cough, cough). But there isn't a large palette of DK weight luxury yarn (aside from some Colourmart Piuma braided cashmeres and they are set aside for something else.) But I discovered Morris' Maya Baby Alpaca DK when I was in the Melbourne store the other day. They make around 30 colours, and although my choices were a little limited due to the winter sale, I managed to find 17 different colourways:
I don't think all of the colours will make the final cut, but most of them look pretty good according to the B&W photo I took to check the relative values. I've tried squinting at the colours as some knitters do, but it makes my eyes water so isn't really helpful!
At the moment, these beauties are sitting in a basket in the hall. I'm having a hard time not casting on immediately, but I need to leave it a couple of days to get the arrangement right-I tweak the arrangment whenever I go past. They're roughly in order of the colours of the rainbow, Roy G Biv,  - red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, violet. 
Richard Of York Gave Battle In Vain...

Tuesday, June 4, 2013

The Long and the Short (Row) Of It..

We have what we like to think of as "generously proportioned" ankles here at Chez Riotous. So when I make socks, they tend to be of the old fashioned, gusset and flap heel construction - which has a little more room across the heel.The main alternative - a short row heel - is much closer to the heel of a commercially produced sock. You might think that commercial socks are made in this way because they have the best fit for the mass market. Actually, that isn't the reason. Quite simply it's much easier (read cheaper) to set up a machine to make a short row heel than it is to make a gusset and flap heel.

Even for a confirmed flap heel knitter like me, there are occasions when you might want to work a short row heel, for reasons of fit, design or to maximize yarn. And it is the most commonly used (but not only) heel construction used in socks knit from the toe up. 
So when it came time to prepare for a new workshop on knitting socks from the toe up, it was natural to start with short row heels. Given the short row is a lesser spotted beastie in my collection, I needed to work a few more examples for class.  I have to say I'm often unimpressed with examples of short row heels that you see in patterns and knitting books. Many of them have a scrappy, amateurish look, like  they've been snacked on by hungry moths - even when worked by the most experienced of knitters. Of course, there are short rows and short rows, with wraps, without wraps, yarn over, make 1, single wraps, double wraps...and each style has its devotees, so which one is best?...
Let's see... No, it isn't a sock for a centipede, rather a comparison of short row heel variations (with a couple of toes thrown in for the heck of it!). Each little "sock" was worked over 40 sts and each heel was worked on 20sts (50% of the total which is typical for short row heels.) All knit in 12ply Bendigo Classic (a worsted weight yarn) on 4.5mm needles. Which made it much quicker to knit than regular sock yarn, with the downside that knitting socks with a thicker yarn shows every little hole and imperfection quite plainly. Although, perhaps that aspect is actually an added bonus in this case - because I deliberately didn't tidy up the result by weaving in yarn tails or performing surgery on the holes so what you get is a warts-and-all comparison of 10 different short row heel treatments. Presenting from L to R (in the photo above):
1) No Treatment Short Rows (Green yarn - above) 
We all know that the downside of working short rows is that they leave little holes in the knitting. But just how bad are they? As a control sample - I knit the first heel without using any jiggery-pokery to hide the holes - this is short rows, no wraps, no yarn overs, no nothing! As you can see, while the holes are quite tidy, they are very obvious, so aside from rare applications in lacy patterns, working short rows without some kind of associated wizardry isn't going to be useful in many circumstances.
2) "Regular" Short Row Heels (Blue yarn - above) 
This one is probably the most commonly used of all short row heels; with single wraps in the decrease section and each stitch getting an extra wrap as you turn to work in the opposite direction (resulting in double wraps around each stitch) in the increase section. The wraps were hidden by picking up and knitting together with the stitches around which they were wrapped. I didn't remount the wraps or change their order on the needles so they are still visible in places, particularly on the purl side of the heel (which is shown on the right hand side of the photo above - in fact I've set all the heel photos in this piece in pairs with the knit side on the left hand side and the purl side of the heel on the right). You can actually see a double line of wraps in the RH photo. It's not a bad result, not too holey, but really doesn't cut it if you want each side of the heel to match. They really don't. 
3) Hiding the wraps #1 (Pink yarn-above)
As with #2 we have single wraps in the decrease section and double wraps in the increase section. The wraps are also hidden by picking up and knitting together. The difference is that the stitches and the wraps are remounted so that the stitch ends up on top of the wraps- then k3tog or p3tog depending on which side of the heel you are working. To be honest, I can't see a huge difference between this version and Regular version #2, except that there is only a single row of  wraps in the right hand photo (one wrap is hidden). But the different sides of the heel still don't match. Worse still, pulling the stitches around to remount them causes a bit of stretching so you can see holes at the corners.
4)Not hiding the wraps #1(Red yarn - above)
And then you wonder - why bother hiding the wraps at all? I don't actually mind the defined diagonal line across the heel. What's more, when you hide wraps they add a bulky ridge inside the heel. Not so bad in fine yarns, but noticeably uncomfortable in thicker yarns. I've never actually seen anyone use ssk's on a short row heel, but I thought that rather than worrying about hiding them, it would be better to try and get the wraps to match.

Anywhooo... wraps, double wraps and remounting of stitches were worked the same way in #4 as in #2 and 3. The only difference is that instead of working k3tog (on the knit side) and p3tog(on the purl side) I replaced the ktogs with ssk's, still working p3togs on the other side. That simple. And what you get is a diagonal (and similar, but not identical) line on both sides of the heel. But again, as you can see, there are little gaps at the tops of the heels, where remounting the stitches has caused the stitches to gape open. Still, an acceptable solution - particularly in lighter yarns.
5) Hiding the wraps #2 (Green yarn - above)
This one is almost the same #3.The only difference is that once the stitches and the wraps are remounted you k3tog (on the knit side) and or p3tog tbl (through the back loop) on the purl side. Yes it matches pretty well, but this gives the "holiest" result of the wrap variants - that p3togtbl really yanks the yarn about and makes the corners gappy. I wouldn't recommend this for DK or heavier weight yarns, but it could be a winner for sock yarn. 
6) Not hiding the wraps #2 - the D'oh! Treatment (Blue yarn-above)
On this one the wraps and double wraps are worked in the usual way. But instead of pfaffing about trying to hide the wraps, I just ignored the wraps - left them untouched and worked the stitches alone. You know what? it's one of the tidiest, stretchiest and least holey results. Yes, I know, everyone thinks you have to hide the wraps and this one has very obvious matched lines of wraps, but I like it! Do nothing - who knew? D'oh!

7) No wrap #1 (Pink yarn) &  8) No wrap #2 - the Priscilla Wild Method (Red yarn) 
Both 7 and 8 are wrap-less short row methods. Both solve the problem of short row holes by using variants of m1; i.e. picking up the bar from the stitch below the gap and working it together with the active heel stitch. This is exactly what you do to close up any corner holes in flap heel gussets and is very easy to work. But ironically, while the diagonals close up well lower down the line, this treatment actually leaves nasty holes at the top corners of the heels. Certainly, this is more obvious in thick yarn and to be fair, I've probably made it worse by jiggling the stitches around to try and photograph them. But of course that's true of the other examples as well. So I don't think I would be choosing this method without expecting to perform some additional "corner surgery" to neaten things up.
9) No wrap, yarn over - the Priscilla Gibson Roberts Method (Green yarn)
There are no wraps in this clever short heel, nutted out by Priscilla Gibson Roberts. Instead, you add a yarn over (worked in the opposite to normal direction - to decrease the amount of loose yarn). You end up with a series of stitch and yarn over pairs, which are knit (or purled) together to close the gap. This has by far the best matching diagonals. Sure, there are some little holes here, but these are not noticeable when you use finer yarns. One of the best!
10) Garter stitch short row heel (Pink yarn - above)
Perhaps including this one is like comparing apples and pears, but the garter stitch variant is still a short row heel. It is worked in exactly the same way as the "Regular" short row heel (with wraps) - except all of the rows are garter stitch. Yes, it is a little smaller than the others (and for that reason I would recommend that you work on at least 60% of the sock stitches for this one rather than the usual 50%.) Plus, it's extremely stretchy, so the diminutive size is not such a problem. You might also think that a garter stitch heel would be uncomfortable. Actually, it's really quite cushy to wear! I'm notoriously fussy about lumps and bumps on the inside of my socks (which is another reason why I'm not a huge fan of the hidden short row method), but I do often make socks with garter stitch short row heels.

So there you have it. One architecture, loads of variants (oh, yes there are more.) My personal hit parade of short row heels:
  • 1st place:  Not hiding the wraps #2 - the D'oh! Treatment
                   (no lumps, no bumps and they match!)
  • 2nd place: No wrap, yarn overs
                    (Nicely done, Priscilla)
  • 3rd place: Garter Stitch Short Row Heels
Still awake?

Monday, June 3, 2013


Anyone who knows me well knows that I am definitely not a Pom Pom girl, but I do like Balls. Eh? What??? Knitted balls, that is. On the tops of hats, oh and trimming the occasional shawl… I like Anna Zilboorg’s method, which is quick and easy to knit. As you can see, although you are knitting a sphere there are only a few stitches, so you can knit the whole thing on 2 needles;

R1) Start with 8 stitches on the top of your "hat" and knit one round in st st
R 2) *M1, K2; repeat from * to end [you now have 12 sts]
R3) Knit one row without increasing
R4)*M1, K1: repeat from * to end [you now have 24 sts]
R5) & R6) Knit all sts without increasing [it's starting look roundish]
R7)*k2tog; repeat from * to end 
You now have 12 sts again [definitely looking round]
R8)Knit all sts without shaping. Then wind a tiny, tight ball of yarn - big enough to fill the ball you have just knit [honestly, this is the trickiest bit!]

... and then stuff it down into the little cavity;
 R9)*K2 tog; repeat from * to end [6sts remain]
And finally.. cut the yarn, leaving about a 30cm tail. Thread yarn through a tapestry needle and fasten off 6 sts [but don't cut the yarn yet...]
...because wait, there's more... Insert the needle into the top of the ball and pull yarn out at the base of the ball
Then wrap the yarn around the base several times
And now insert the needle into the base of the ball and pull the yarn out through the top of the ball
Pull the yarn tight and trim the end. The yarn end will disappear back into the ball. And there you have it. Sweet!

Monday, May 27, 2013

Colour my World

I'm going to be teaching colourwork next month at Morris and Sons in Melbourne. It will be a two day workshop Saturday 29th and Sunday 30th June - I'll be covering colour theory, how to choose colours and how to knit with them and everyone will get to make a hat using the techniques of their choice.

Meanwhile, I get to work up class samples and play with colour. Fun!

Knot the Done Thing

Interesting results of last week's experiment with variegated yarn. The yarn has very long repeats of colour so the neckwarmer and hat looks as if they have been knit with different colourways. They haven't. Both pieces used the same ball of Wisdom Poems Sock yarn together with Madeline Tosh Light in Fig and Antler. As you can see, the neckwarmer/cowl (call it what you will) didn't get out of the green/tan repeats, while the hat is all autumnal oranges and browns (with a hint of green at the bottom of the ribbing.) I would have preferred a mix of all of the colours in each piece, but all in all, a reasonable result for an experiment.

And my verdict on the yarn? Love the MadelineTosh Light. But the Poems Sock??? Well... it's really inconsistently spun with occasional yarn blobs and weak sections;

And there were knots, which wouldn't have been so bad if the mill had continued the colour sequence on either side. But no, they ignored that. There were two knots in the ball; one where the colour jumped from green  to brown and other (below) which switched from orange to brown. Very poor quality control.

It also seems odd that Poems is marketed as a sock yarn. It's very fuzzy - as you can see from the cast on edge of the hat, the fibres were already fulling slightly as I knit. Goodness knows how it would wear as a sock. I wouldn't recommend it.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

One is One

Oddballs! All knitters know what I'm talking about - those lone skeins of yarn that lurk in the back of your stash. Often bought on impulse, perhaps not enough to make anything, and refusing to co-operate with other yarns.

Here's one of mine, a lone ball of Wisdom Poems Sock Yarn  bought at the Bendigo Sheep and Wool Show a couple of years ago.

Actually, as you can see from the manufacturer's web site, the ball is enough to knit a pair of socks:
But somehow, "knitting it straight" doesn't doesn't do justice to the colourful promise of the skein. As with so many multi-coloured yarns, the finished product disappoints. What to do? Add more colour - of course! Poems Sock is an unusual composition, a bit of a rarity in my stash. I've got loads of sock yarn, many multis, but not many yarns like this, which is a hairy, wool and nylon blend with a single like construction (to be honest, I'm skeptical that it would wear well as socks). But it is similar in weight, hand and construction to Madeline Tosh Merino Light a lovely yarn which I have been experimenting with recently.What's more I bought an underweight, oversaturated "one of a kind" skein of MLT in the fig colourway which goes beautifully with the multi:

With the two skeins of yarn I should have enough to make a loose, medium sized cowl (neckwarmer). No pattern, I'll design on the fly, depending on how the yarn and colours behave. Sooooo - 3.25 needles, cast on 204 sts (a number that is divisible by 2,4, and 6 so will give me a bit of flexibility choosing stranded patterns.) First up a little bit of corrugated ribbing:
I'm more and more convinced that this yarn would make terrible socks. It's very hairy and is fulling slightly as I knit (and shedding all over the couch.) So far, the colours are playing nicely together with the long repeats from the multi skein giving a nice, graded effect. However, as the multi unwinds it is becoming obvious that the fig may not provide enough contrast with the deeper brown sections of the skein of Poem. Which means adding another colour :) Rather than frogging back (which would, I suspect, damage the Poem yarn and drive me bonkers), I'll introduce the new colour by adding a braid between the ribbing and stranded section of the cowl. So now I have Wisdom Poems Sock in Pumpkin Patch together with MLT Fig and MLT Antler (lovely, pale creamy brown). It's starting to look cosy...

Sunday, May 12, 2013

Camera Obscura: Struggles with an SLR

I've always loved photography. It's a perfect blend of art, technology and commentary; equal parts science and magic. My own first attempts at making pictures were with a Kodak Instamatic, bought with carefully hoarded 20c per week deposits from my primary school bank account. That little camera was with me on the boat when we emigrated from England when I was 8. 

I'm told I wasted a lot of film; but there was so much fun in the routine of fitting the special sealed film cartridge, the solid clunk and click of the camera, the special fizzing flash cubes and even the ritual trip to the chemist to wait for the results, ordinary as they were:
Achille Lauro, Naples - Mount Vesuvius,1968
On special weekends my father would turn the bathroom into a darkroom to develop black and white films. I would sit in the red lamplight watching the images magically appearing. On extra special occasions, I was allowed to take charge of the stop watch. There was such a feeling of power, conjuring the floating pictures around. 

Dad particularly loved his cine camera, an 8mm Bolex movie camera:
My role in movie making was to sit at the side of the projector and make sure that the film didn't spool onto the floor in a tangle... it often did.

But even with such an early start, I've always been a  hit and miss photographer. I've read handbook after handbook on cameras and photographic theory. Pored over works by inspirational photographers - Adams, Avedon, Curtis, Dombrovskis, Snowdon... I always diligently read camera manuals  - cover to cover. At the time, it all seems straight forward; ISO - check!, Aperture - check!, f stops - check! But get the camera in my hands and all that goodly wisdom bolts out of the window.

I've thought long and hard about this and decided it's not a lack of patience, more like anxiety over missing a special shot, combined with a lack of discipline. And I think the anxiety also has something to do with the way that different people perceive things. Typically, when John and I are photographing a scene he will carefully set up landscapes and panoramic views:

Sundalsora, Norway
Hobitton Film Set, New Zealand

whereas I tend to see smaller details and vignettes out of corner of my eye:
The Green Dragon Pub taken by John:
John in the doorway of the Green Dragon (taken by me):
It's a bit like looking at a Brueghel; John tends to see the whole painting, I'm drawn to faces in the crowd.

A CAE photography tutor once told me that I needed to completely let go of the auto camera functions and be prepared to get a lot worse at taking pictures, before I could get any better. She was also strongly against "wasting time in post processing". For a while, I tried to be more disciplined, still guiltily flipping back and forth between auto and manual, feeling bad about the amount of time I spent tinkering with images. No more. I've decided to keep on taking pictures using whichever way (or camera) suits the situation or my mood. Without the pressure of always trying to "do it properly" I've started to take more photos, learn by experience and guess what, the fun is back!

After this minor epiphany I took a 3 day workshop with Phil Fogle. ('The Image' Introduction to Photography, Lighting and Presentation). A thoroughly enjoyable workshop, concentrating on photographing flat and 3D artwork, texture and surface. I learned a lot (and was inspired to buy a new camera!), but as the workshop wore on I found myself wandering away from the set exercises on lighting and depth of field: 

and compelled to capture a record of the what was going on around me:
Patient? yes. Disciplined? Perhaps not!