Sunday, October 31, 2010

Portland Stash Enhancement - yay!

Yesterday I had the distinct pleasure of hitting some Portland area yarn stores with four of the members of our Ravelry group, the Sock-aholics. What fun to get to meet these ladies face-to-face after having developed online friendships for quite some time now!

We started with a great breakfast at the Cadillac Cafe, where we feasted on such treats as Hazelnut French Toast and Pumpkin Cream Cheese Pancakes. Great food! We had no problem at all keeping lively conversation going, and enjoyed lots of great laughs together. In the photo from left to right are, knitsterchick (seated), SueHauser, yours truly, yohmama, and GmaX4. We were escorted by Mr. GmaX4 and Mr. Wendy, who I'm sure were wishing we would talk about something other than yarn every now and then :-)
Our first stop on the Yarn Trail was a shop called Twisted. The initial thing that catches your eye as you walk in this shop is this awesome wall of sock yarn! Our escorts waited patiently in the "man chairs" by the front door while we browsed all types of yarns, featuring many brands of Indie yarns - which means you can truly find something special here. They had nice couches and tables and chairs where several ladies were enjoying some social knitting, a huge selection of teas, and in the back they had a small classroom area where a beginning knitting class had just begun. (Yay! New knitters!) I didn't make any purchases here, but I did get my head around what I wanted to buy for the two projects I had in mind to shop for.

Next we headed to the Yarn Garden. OMG this shop is huge! I don't think I even went into all the rooms of yarn. After I got over my initial yarn overload, I buckled down and focused on finding yarn for my projects. The first project on my list is a shrug for my sister who teaches ballet and needs a little something to keep her arms warm. The pattern I chose requires worsted weight, and I wanted something washable. I found Malabrigo Rios which is superwash merino, and is about the softest wool I think I've ever touched! The colorway is a smoky tealy-green tonal blend that should be beautiful. My other score was DK weight Elsbeth Lavold Silky Wool (45% Wool/35% Silk/20% Nylon) which I'm going to use to make a cute summer top called Siesta. This yarn is in a bright apple green that yohmama helped me select.

I should mention that yohmama was really a trooper to come out with us in her leg cast today! She wasn't able to stand and check out the yarns in the shops, but she found a good place to put her leg up and knit in each store, and she was a great armchair shopping coach!

While we were in Yarn Garden, our escorts got clever and looked ahead to see what diversions they could find near our next destination, and bugged out to go play some pool at one of the many cool McMenamin establishments.

Our next stop was Happy Knits! Someone had knitted a cozy for their front door handle - ha! This shop was run by a couple of really friendly gentlemen who, pardon the expression, had some really big balls! Giant wire balls adorned with Cascade 220 in all colors decorated the tops of their displays. This is a newer shop, and it has a huge class/knitting room in the back with a fireplace. Awesome :-)

Our final stop was Dublin Bay Yarn Company. I made an "unscheduled" purchase here, when I found I could just not leave without these cute snowman buttons. Of course, I had to get yarn for a project to put the buttons on, so I selected these red and white skeins of Lorna's Laces Sheperd Worsted superwash that is really soft and squishy. I plan to make a hat and mittens set for my niece, and I'll put the cute buttons on the hat.

What an enjoyable day we had! The other ladies will have to show and tell their purchases - I got so excited about my finds that I don't even remember everything else that was tucked into shopping bags.

I really look forward to meeting other Sock-aholics on future trips!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Top Down Fleegle Heel

It's my favorite knitting day of the week - Sports Knitting Sunday! Although my betting is for bragging rights only, I find it keeps the sideline knitting more interesting if I have something specific to cheer for. I'm in an NFL game picking contest with a bunch of other knitters and am not doing well this year in that contest at all! I've resorted to flipping a coin to improve my odds of scoring points. And for the first time, I'm also in a NASCAR Fantasy League for the Sprint Cup Series which I'm really enjoying. I'm in second place in that contest so far, and I think there are actually dishcloths on the line this week... so this is serious! Both are on TV right now - so it may take me a while to type this post!

Now for a warning... this remainder of this post is rated very high on the technical knitting geek meter!

Our online Ravelry group has just started two Knit-along projects - both suitable for holiday gift giving! One of them, the Pretty Toes Pedicure Sock, uses a heel that I've mentioned previously knows as the Fleegle Heel. This heel, pictured on the right, is designed for toe up usage. It is done as follows:

1. The gusset is created first. On every other row of the gusset, a lifted increase is worked two stitches in from each end of the sts on the heel needle. This continues until the gusset contains two fewer stitches than were in the original circumference of the entire sock.

2. To turn the heel, short rows are worked on the heel needle stitches only. The creator of the Fleegle heel has cleverly identified a way to do the short row turns without wraps that are very clean looking.

3. Once the heel stitch count has been decreased to where there are only a couple more stitches than you started with, the heel is rejoined to the top side of the sock and knitting in the round is resumed. The Fleegle creator has also found the way to prevent gusset holes from appearing - she is very smart! You can find the specific directions for working the Fleegle Heel on her blog - here's a link.

After learning this heel, my first thought was, "Now how would you do this for a top-down sock?" The Fleegle creator mentions in her blog that the heel can be worked identically for a top-down application, so I gave that suggestion a test knit. Below is a photo comparing the standard Fleegle (left) to the upside-down Fleegle (right).

While this option is simple to work, and has a very tidy look to it, there are a couple of things about it that bother me a little. First, look at the angle of the heel turn. It no longer bisects the heel, but instead the angle is very low. I believe this occurs because the Fleegle Heel is not symmetrical in terms of the number of rows before the turn versus after the turn. Second, it just looks visually unbalanced to me to have the gusset on the top side of the turn row instead of below it. This is, of course, a personal preference thing. Third, notice how the top of the heel is higher on the upside down version than on the standard version. Again this is due to the unsymmetrical nature of the heel style. If you were working on a top-down sock, you would need to disrupt the stitch pattern on the back of the leg at a higher point than you would if you were working the same sock toe-up.

None of these points are terribly bothersome or important. But, it did fuel me to come up with a top-down version of this no-flap gusset heel that would look more like its toe-up counterpoint. The challenge in doing this is that you need to start by doing short row increases, and then finish by doing gusset decreases. The gusset decreases are no problem - you simply do decreases on each side of the gusset instead of the lifted increases that are done in the stardard version.

The short row increases are tricky however. All the types of short row increases that I know (wrapped, Japanese, yarn over) leave gaps between the stitches on the needle before and after the turning point. Normally with a short row heel this isn't a problem, because when you do the heel turn, you work decreases across those gaps to hide them. But in this case, there aren't short row decreases to hide the gaps, so I needed to come up with a way to do gap-less short row turns.

I accomplished this by using Make 1 increases at the turning points instead of doing wraps or yarn overs. So, the jist of the short row heel shaping goes like this...

Row 1: (RS) K to last st, M1, turn.
Row 2: (WS) Slip 2 with yarn in front. P to last st, M1, turn.
Row 3: Slip 2 with yarn in back. K to last 3 sts, M1, turn.
Row 4: Slip 2 with yarn in front. P to last 3 sts, M1, turn.
Row 5: Slip 2 with yarn in back. K to last 5 sts, M1, turn.
Row 6: Slip 2 with yarn in front. P to last 5 sts, M1, turn.

See the pattern? Repeat rows 5 and 6, leaving 2 more sts at the end of the row before you work your M1, until you have the desired number of sts on your heel needle, ending with a WS row. Then you work the gusset decreases to form the heel turn. The photo below shows this top-down no-flap gusset heel compared to the others we've previously discussed.

Notice that it matches the standard toe-up Fleegle quite well, that the heel turn row angle better bisects the heel, and that the top of the heel in the back is lower than the upside-down Fleegle version. The turn row itself is not quite a smooth as the original Fleegle turn row, but it still looks pretty good.

So I'm happy that I was able to figure this out - for what it's worth. Either of these top-down methods would make a great sock - it's just about having more options.

Now back to sports and knitting!


Sunday, October 10, 2010

A Bet is Paid with Knitters' Currency

Who else but knitters would use dishcloths as currency? Truth is - we're dishcloth crazy. We love to make them, we love to receive them, and we love to use them (OK, maybe we don't love to do dishes, but getting to use a handmade dishcloth makes the chore SO much better.)

Pre-Ravelry, I had no clue about the whole dishcloth craze. I was into knitting garments, particularly a whole slew of sweaters that I hardly ever wear because they are too warm for Southern California (clearly I also hadn't heard of DK weight yarn). Once I joined Ravelry, and some other online knitting groups, I was completely intrigued about how much of the chit chat was devoted to the subject of dishcloths. I kept thinking that all these online knitters must be beginners, because why would any seasoned knitter be satisfied with knitting a simple dishcloth? And why would anyone actually be searching for dishcloth patterns - they are just squares for cripes sakes! Apparently, another online lurker had the same questions, and actually had the cojones to post them. All I can say is, I'm really glad I wasn't the one who asked why anyone would want to knit dishcloths. That poster got creamed by a flood of responses - many of which indicated that her hoity-toity attitude was not appreciated, and that she was missing out on something by not making dishcloths.

So I gave it a whirl. I went to Michaels to get some dishcloth cotton, and found that, "Hey, since the last time I looked at dishcloth cotton in the 1970s, it actually comes in colors other than white now!"

So I got my little ball, and started to search for - heaven forbid - dishcloth patterns. What I found was my second pleasant surprise, dishcloths aren't just garter stitch squares! They were in all shapes and sizes, and used lots of pretty lace patterns and other theme motifs. I picked one out and went to work.

After a couple of hours my dishcloth was finished. Pleasant suprise number three! Dishcloths give us a little project that we can complete quickly when we need to feel the satisfaction of finishing something. And, that makes them a great gift option, too.

Finally, pleasant suprise number four was how nicely they work! Those purl bumps and lacy texture stitches make excellent little pot scrubbers or skin exfoliators. Not only are they pretty, but they are useful, too!

To celebrate my new found love of The Dishcloth, I joined a 2008 Olympic-themed dishcloth assassin game hosted by Helen Waites, who runs the Sock Wars games. I went back to Michaels, and this time came home with THREE of those football sized skeins of Sugar n' Cream which were on too good of a sale to resist. Even though I got killed in round 2 of the dishcloth contest, I had a great time, and got some pretty new cloths to use. And, I have enough dishcloth cotton to last me for the rest of my life!

These days, the Sock-aholics have been using dishcloths as currency in our recent sports contests. We have a knitters NASCAR contest going for the Sprint Chase for the Cup Series, and several participants have been knitting dishcloths to send to the lucky weekly winners. I find that I'm quick to make dishcloth bets with members of our NFL contest who directly challenge my local team, the Chargers, against their favorite team. So far, this has consistently been a sucker bet for me and has not netted me any new dishcloths, though. Last season I lost a bet to a Jets fan. While searching my stash of dishcloth cotton for appropriate yarn to make her prize from, I just couldn't find my green, and instead made her the Chargers themed dishcloth shown above. I don't think it's the favored dishcloth in her collection - ha!

This year, I lost a bet to a KC Chiefs fan. I considered making her a Chargers dishcloth, too, but I'm so annoyed with their performance this year that I couldn't bear the thought of spending more time paying yarny tribute to them. Instead, I grabbed the pink yarn from my stash, and recognized that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and made her the dishcloth shown below. I adapted the ribbon motif from the Awareness Socks I designed earlier this year, and put a seed stitch border around it so it would lay flat. I think she will like it :-)