Friday, March 26, 2010

More Thoughts on Design and the Value of Swatching

As with any hobby or vocation, in knitting there are various levels of proficiency from beginner to expert.  

As an Absolute Beginner I found that I didn't really "think" about knitting very much at all.  I just got a pattern, the yarn required for it and went at it.  I never saw the value of the swatch and so didn't do one.  I got lucky.  There were never any sizing woes despite not doing a swatch.

Then, in the Intermediate Beginner stage, I said, "Oh!  So that's why they tell you to do a swatch,"  but I only rarely did it and problems occurred.  Again, not hugely problematic, but I started to actually be aware of the issues.  At this stage I also began reading charts and had most of the standard lingo down pat.

When I hit the Advanced Beginner stage I did my swatches regularly, thus got gauge regularly and could pick up just about any pattern and get through it.  Charts were no problem and neither were lace or cables.

I would classify myself now as an Intermediate Knitter.  I'm starting to tackle the Why's and Wherefore's of my chosen favorite hobby.  (Notice I said favorite.  You have no idea how many hobbies I have.  I'm a chronic hobbyist.)  I can now modifiy patterns on the fly and even create some basic ones.  But I still feel like a fledgling just learning to flex it's wings.   You know you've hit the intermediate stage in any endeavor when you say to yourself "I'm really good at this!" and then are brought crashing down to reality and are humbled by how much you still have to learn.

Case in point:  I drew up a sketch of a sweater that I want to create.  I was good and made swatches of the various patterns that I want in it, mainly to check my gauge and to do all the math-y things that are required when creating.  However, I learned so much more this time from my swatches than I expected to.

On my stockinette swatch, using 100% wool, I went up a couple of needle sizes and got a fabric that is a little less dense and therefore has more drape and really liked it.  It's not so loose that it has gaping holes, but the fabric is not stiff either. 

The cable swatch, done on the same needle size was done mainly to test that I could do the cable and that worked a treat too. 

But where I ran into problems was at the bottom of the sweater.  I wanted a textured stitch for more interest.  I wanted something beyond garter, ribbing, seed or moss stitch that wouldn't curl.  I thought that I had found the perfect stitch pattern for it.  Again, using the same needle size,  I swatched it up and was all proud of myself, but what I got, I didn't really expect.  Yes, it's beautiful and doesn't curl a bit.  Yay for that.  However, my fabric came out far more dense than expected. 

Here's the two swatches side by side:

The one on the right almost has the denseness of crochet.  There's no fluidity at all to the swatch.  A little too sturdy for the project that I have in mind.  Does anyone want a dense fabric with very little give to it sitting right on their hips and adding bulk?  No, I don't think so.  Back to the drawing board for me.  I'm now off to hunt a new stitch pattern that fulfills my needs a bit better.

Lesson learned:  Sometimes the value of the swatch is not just in the gauge that it gives you.  It's what it can tell you from a design standpoint;  How will a certain type of yarn perform in a given situation.  Is it stiff? fluid? have more/less drape?  Does the pattern complement or take away from other elements in the design? These are so important to know.  It's amazing the information that can be gathered in just a four inch square of knitting.

Thursday, March 25, 2010

Reverse Engineering

A year ago I bought the Youngest a blue cabled sweater at a children's consignment sale.  He wore it a couple of times, but it wasn't his favorite and it wasn't the real reason that I purchased it anyway.  The sole reason that I got the sweater was for the really cool cable that covered the sweater.  That little sweater had been living in a drawer until a couple of days ago.

I had an idea for a sweater that I wanted to design and the cable would be perfect for it.  The problem that I had was that I had no idea how to do the cable.  So last night I got started with reverse engineering it.  The cable was actually not as hard as I expected it to be.  From the front, the one that I came up with looked identical to my example.  But from the back?  Nope.  So I tried again.

This time, I got it right.  Here's the back:

See the two knit columns that are going up the back?   The swatch hasn't yet been blocked, so it's curving more that I'd like, but I'll fix it later.  The vertical lines are what I was trying to achieve.  Hopefully it will help the structural integrity of the piece and help keep the fabric from going all wonky and out of proportion to the rest of the piece.

Now here's my swatch from the front:

Isn't that a cool looking cable?  Notice the oval within an oval.  Around the base of the smaller oval are two smaller cables.  I love it.

Once I figured out how to make it, I started trying to find ways to make it simpler.  Ya know what?  I tried three different variations that all looked the same, but I kept coming back over and over to the first one that I tried.   When I do cabling, I don't use a cable needle (thanks to an Annie Modesitt class), but if I'm going to write this pattern up, I'm going to have to write it up for those that do use the needles.  That's not the problem.  The real issue is that this cable is going to require the knitter to use two cable needles.

I found two ways of not doing this, but I couldn't get the stitch on the back to run vertically up and down the piece and I think it's going to be too important to the sweater to leave it out.  What a pain. This would have been a lot easier if someone had just written this out for me, ya know. 

That being said, I'm really proud of how it looks and of figuring it out on my own.

Wednesday, March 24, 2010

Perfect Greenapple

I picked up a new project for my trip to South Carolina, Stephanie Japel's Perfect Periwinkle from her book Fitted Knits.   Except it's not periwinkle, it's more of a greenapple and it's not done in wool, it's cotton.  I mean, who in their right mind would want a tank top in wool?  Especially here in the Deep South? It gets a little hot and humid here ya know.

Here's the progress so far:

I almost feel sorry for Ms. Japel.  There are mistakes in  the beginning of the pattern and there is errata out there for it.  Unfortunately, the errata still doesn't clear up all the confusion.  Reviews on Ravelry have not been particularly kind about all the mistakes.  I wonder if the mistakes on the designer's side or if the problem happened at the publisher?  

Once past the mistakes, it's not a difficult pattern at all, very simple and very sexy when worked up.  I'm really liking it as a matter of fact and can't wait to wear it.  I'm using Hobby Lobby's I Love This Cotton! for the yarn in the Sage colorway, but I think it looks more like Jolly Ranchers green apple candy myself.  

I modified the neck.  It's supposed to be a 5 inch turtleneck and I made it 3 inches so that it's more of a mock turtleneck.   The heat and humidity thing, remember?   No other modifications other than correcting the pattern and errata mistakes so far.  The project is young yet though.  I'm sure other mods will creep their way in sooner or later.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Fresh Pasta!

I spent my afternoon making fresh pasta! 

My Mom and I went thrift store shopping one afternoon and found a pasta maker.  It had oodles of attachments, a manual and a video for $12.50.  We figured, what the heck, let's give it a try.  So home it went.  One of the neat things about this machine is the different pasta attachments.  I can make so many different  shapes and sizes.

I found that there's a little bit of a learning curve and at one point I almost pitched the whole thing into the trash can.  It was supposed to come with a special measuring cup that tells you exactly how much liquid to mix with the flour.  Of course, it was missing,  but I persevered until I figured out the mix by trial and error (2 parts flour to a little less than 1 part liquid) and look:

I made pasta!

This is so cool.  I've never made fresh pasta before and it tasted fantastic.  I'm going to go make up another couple of batches tonight and freeze it.  It'll keep for up to 6 months in the freezer, but there's no way that this is going to sit in there for that long.  It got a huge thumbs up from the kiddos too.  Nice.

Monday, March 22, 2010

Adventure in SC

Traveling to rural South Carolina to visit distant family is always an adventure. 

We saw a forest fire starting up (Pic taken while in a 70mph moving vehicle):

And then came across what somebody in rural SC feels is a proper home addition:

 Maybe it's the Mother In Law Suite?

And my Dad wonders why I make fun of South Carolina.