Sunday, September 14, 2014

A Yarn Stab from the Past

One of my crochet students brought in this huge blanket, a family heirloom.  With her permission, I have pictures for you.

She wasn't sure how old it was, but we all gathered around and tried to determine whether it was acrylic or wool or what, and therefore, when the yarn would have been manufactured, so we could get a better idea of when the blanket was made.

It seemed to be a combination of types of fibers, in the spirit of thriftily using up scraps.

Some of those bright colors and variegated yarns sure do look like good old Red Heart.  I just checked the Red Heart website, and they say they have been making their yarn for 75 years.

It's a simple but effective shell pattern, with a fancier border of arches tacked together with a tiny bit of thread so they would hang together.  Not sure I would want to bother with the thread myself, but it was interesting to see.

My favorite color combo is the Southwesterny one of turquoise and earth tones.

Time and use and maybe a moth or two have created a couple of holes in the blanket, and a couple of strands of yarn were poking out.

One woman was eager to try a burn test to figure out the fiber content, but a chorus of students and myself hastily nixed that idea, to the relief of the owner!

Monday, September 8, 2014

Taming the Wild Long-Tail Cast-On

Doesn't the "long-tail" sound like some kind of critter?

The long-eared rabbit.

The snub-nosed monkey.

The long-tailed brush lizard or the long-tailed shrew.

One definition of shrew is, according to my dictionary, "any of several small, mouse-like, insect-eating mammals…having a long, sharp snout and small, poorly developed eyes."  So it's not just a bad-tempered woman!

I can certainly relate to the poor eyesight (she said, squinting at the computer screen, raising and lowering her head to try to see clearly through her new glasses without straining her neck.  That's enough to make anyone a bit bad-tempered.)

But I have digressed.

Taming the long-tail shrew--I mean, the long-tail cast-on--is the topic.

Beginning knitters, a.k.a. "beknitters," often ask the infamous question that evokes fear and loathing in the most courageous of crafters, "How long a tail do I need?"

"Depends on which tree branch you want to swing on," is the obvious answer.

Seriously, folks, there are a number of ways around this dilemma (see below.  Way below.)  But sometimes, you just want to use the long-tail.  It's attractive, it's stable, and it's fun because you are doing this cat's cradle kind of thing that magically causes loops to appear on your needle.  It brings out the inner kid.

When I'm teaching beginners, I prefer to teach them the long-tail cast-on.  Unless they are really having trouble with it, I think a little extra time and persistence is worth it in the long run.  It's a good cast-on skill to have in your repertoire.

But that question, "How long a tail do I need?" comes up constantly, usually evoking rolling of eyes heavenward from all the other knitters at the table, as we chime in with various ways to wing it, because no one is 100% certain.

I recently read a tip in a knitting-related newsletter written many moons ago, a newsletter which I had stuck in a knitting folder labeled "Miscellaneous" and promptly forgotten.

This tip said that the length of yarn needed for the long-tail cast-on can be determined using the following formula.  For every 10 stitches, figure:

8 inches of yarn for DK weight.
12 inches of yarn for worsted weight.
15 to 16 inches for bulky/chunky.
18 inches for super bulky.

Oh, it sounded so enticing and reasonable!

"Eureka!" I said to myself, doing an inner dance on an imaginary tabletop.  Problem solved!

But then I did a little math.  My inner dance turned to a funereal mental march.

Say I wanted to knit a modest-sized baby blanket out of worsted weight yarn and I needed to cast on, say, 150 stitches.  Using the formula above, that would mean I would need 15 feet of tail?  5 yards?! Sounded fishy.  Long-tailed fishy.  Long-tailed, googly-eyed, bewhiskered catfishy.

So I pulled out various scrap yarns from the ol' stash, and a bunch of needles, and experimented.  All for you, dear reader.

Actually, for all of us.  Because wouldn't we all like to know a way to calculate this?  Not to be casting on 150 stitches and run out of tail at 147?  Whence cursing ensues?

Or not to have way more tail than any self-respecting shrew would need, regardless of tree branch selection, as noted above?  After all, "waste not, want not," as my mother always used to say and occasionally still does.  (Hi, Mom!)

So here's some chunky weight yarn, starting with 15 inches as suggested, with 10 sts cast on, using an appropriate sized needle.

An acceptable tail on the left there, wouldn't you say?

The next pic shows a cast-on of 20 sts, starting with 30 inches of yarn as the formula suggests.  Note the increased length of tail!

Uh-oh!  Imagine casting on many multiples of 10 stitches using 15 inches for each 10.  That there is gonna be one mighty long tail, gosh darn it.

But I did measure my previous acceptable tail length, and got 8 inches with my chunky yarn.  I subtracted 8 inches from the original 15 inches and got 7 inches (and you will too, if you do the math!)

That meant I really only needed 7 inches of yarn for each multiple of 10 cast-on stitches.

So if I want to cast on 20 stitches, that's 7 inches plus 7 inches plus 8 inches for the tail.  That's 22 inches, not 30 as the original formula suggests.

Behold the result:
20 stitches, acceptable tail.


You can figure this out any time you want to do a long-tail cast-on.  Whatever your yarn weight, whatever size needle you have.

You have to do some math.

Don't panic.  Don't forget to breathe.

I know a lot of people (hate to say it, but mostly women;  my apologies to the female math geniuses out there) who get instant brain freeze the second they hear the word "math."  They just assume it will be hard, so their brain gives up before they even try.

Trust me, most of you can do this!!!  You can even use a piece of paper and pencil, or a calculator--it isn't cheating!  And there will not be a pop quiz!

I suggest using the original formula to cast on 10 stitches only.  To repeat, that's:

8 inches of yarn for DK weight.
12 inches of yarn for worsted weight.
15 to 16 inches for bulky/chunky.
18 inches for super bulky.

1.  After you cast on 10 stitches, if you're happy with your tail length, measure it!

(You know that song:  If you're happy with your tail, clap your hands, if you're happy with your tail, clap your hands….)

2.  Subtract that tail length from the original length you started with.
3.  The remainder is roughly what you need for every 10 stitches.
4.  Divide your ultimate stitch goal by 10.
5.  Multiply that number by the remainder number.
6.  Add the tail length, and that's how much yarn you need to start.

Here's an example:

Say I need to cast on 150 stitches with chunky yarn for a blanket.

1.  Using the original formula to cast on 10 stitches:  I start with 15 inches of yarn, and my tail is 8 inches.

2.  Subtract that tail length from the original length you started with:  15 minus 8 = 7 inches.  This is the remainder number.

3.  Divide your ultimate stitch goal by 10:  150 stitches divided by 10 is 15.

4.  Multiply that number by the remainder number:  15 x 7 inches = 105 inches.

5.  Add the tail length:  105 + 8 = 113.

So I need 113 inches to cast on 150 stitches.

Suppose I want to figure out how many yards that is.

I divide 113 by 36.  Here's where I succumb to grabbing a calculator.  It comes to 3.138, so I need a little over 3 yards, not 5 as the original formula suggests.  You could round up that 3.138 to 3.25 or 3.5.  You'll have plenty of yarn, and your tail won't be long enough to lasso the moon.

I tried this whole procedure with 12 inches of worsted weight yarn and a #7 needle.  Note the nice tail length in the first pic, with 10 stitches.

Next we have a slightly longer tail with 20 sts, using 24 inches of yarn according to the original formula.

But, just to be prepared, I measured the acceptable length of tail from the first pic.  It was 5.25 inches.

The original 12 inches minus 5.25 inches gives me 6.75 inches, the "remainder number."  That's how much I need for 10 actual cast-on stitches with this weight yarn and this size needles.

With my new, improved formula, even with 30 stitches cast on, I still had the perfect tail length!

"Eureka!" I say yet again, and this time I am still dancing!

Let's try it with DK weight yarn, shall we?

Yes, let's!

Here are 10 sts on an appropriate sized needle:
Here are 20:
Not bad, but not quite as peachy.

Next we have 30 stitches using the original formula above, and that tail is getting longer!  Imagine once again if you were casting on enough for a blanket!  You'd have a tail long enough to swing from vine to vine in a rain forest.

How about casting on 30 stitches with my revised formula?  Behold!  The perfect tail.

Now that I have led you, dear reader, through that mathematical song and dance, here are some other options.

How to Avoid the Dreaded Long-Tail Math:

Option 1:  Use the yarn ends from two balls of yarn, or the inside and outside ends of a single ball of yarn.  Tie the two ends together in a knot, then create a slip-knot and do the long-tail using both strands.  When you're done casting on, cut one strand, leaving a modest tail to weave in later, and proceed to knit with the other strand.

Option 2:  Cast on using the easy, stretchy (yet in my opinion, often loose and annoying) thumb cast-on.

Option 3:  Cast on using the stretchy yet firm and attractive crochet cast-on!  (You can tell by my exclamation point that I really like this cast-on!  But I am a crocheter and I don't find it difficult.  If you're new to crocheting, this cast-on could be excruciating.  My apologies to Lorrie.  You know!)

Option 4:  Use the cable cast-on.

Option 5:  Use the knitted cast-on.

In case you're not familiar with some of these cast-ons, all are eminently google-able.  Googlable?  All are worth learning.  They all have their uses.  But sometimes, you just want to play cat's cradle like a long-tailed shrew.

Saturday, September 6, 2014

Where Have All the Projects Gone?

The reason I haven't blogged in a while is that I have been busy designing this, that, and the other.

Two crochet projects being submitted to Storey Publishing for one of their upcoming 101 One Skein series books:

the whimsical Zucchini Cocoon (with matching hat)

and below, a lace "cloud" of a blanket.

Wish me luck--I hope they make it into the book!

Submitting patterns to others, however, means a looming, brooding cloud of dreaded deadlines.  I kept trying to substitute the word "lifeline" in my mind, or "submission date" or "reception date," but I just couldn't fool myself.  It still felt like a deadline.  Cue the high blood pressure.

So I didn't let myself blog.  I hardly ever let myself spin, or quilt--I didn't finish my one UFO quilt a month "deadline" either!  Yikes!  It began to feel like a burden instead of a joy, so I told myself, "You don't have to finish the quilt.  Just finish the crochet patterns and get them out the door."

As of this morning, the pattern has been e-mailed, the "cloud" itself is off to Massachusetts by snail mail, and I have promised to reward myself with blogging and quilting and spinning like a wild woman, all the live-long day!

Just wanted to drop a blogline first.

And before I go, here's a sneak peak at one version of a new blanket pattern I'm developing.  This is just the center; the border really makes it pop.

All will be revealed in due course, as will the new patterns!

Monday, August 11, 2014

In Threes Sweater

Just a quick pic to show what one of the ladies in my knitting help class made:

This is the "In Threes" baby sweater pattern that is popular on Ravelry, and around here; it seems almost everyone with a grandbaby on the way is making one, or three.

Please note:  bird not included!  Rachel made a little bird out of felt to attach to her sweater, with a button for the eye.  We are calling it the Bluebird of Happiness.

I just wish I had thought to take pictures of everyone else's sweaters over the past few weeks; they were all beautifully made, but when things get busy, my camera doesn't quite make it out of its cozy pouch in my purse.

Wednesday, August 6, 2014

Reusing, Recycling, Reviving Used Yarn: A Trip to the Yarn Spa

A long time ago, I journeyed in my imagination to a wondrous land where every sweater I knit fit me just the way I wanted it to fit.  Sweaters were never too tight under the armpit, or too saggy and heavy in the sleeve, too baggy in the waist, itchy in the neck, too short or too long, but just right.

In reality--THUD (that sound is me coming back to reality)--as a new knitter, the first sweater attempts I made were less-than-wondrous.  The first was made of cotton yarn.  Turns out, cotton is heavy and does not hold its shape, especially when you are a woman of Traditional Build and you need at least twice as much yarn as the usually-smallest-size-sweater sample on the teeny-tiny model who looks so dang cute in the picture on the pattern.

The knitting itself on my first sweater wasn't bad, the pattern was fine, but I couldn't even give it away among my friends, and it certainly wasn't something I was going to wear.

Off to Goodwill it went, a brand new, hand knit yet ill-fitting sweater.  I hope it found a home.

Sweater #2 I nicknamed "Gargantua."  (What, not Frankensweater?!)

In this case, oblivious to my body type (perhaps traveling mentally in that other wondrous world where everything fit me because I was still 28 years old) I used Super Bulky yarn.  It was very nice yarn, and the sweater did actually fit, sort of, but it was boxy and Super Bulky, and it also had some mohair in it, and the shedding and "bloom" of that mohair got to be annoying.  Too much bloomin' fuzz!

I think that one ended up as a rescue sweater as well, although I salvaged the beautiful silver buttons first.

Other better sweaters came off my needles in time, and they began to fit a bit better, and then I found the book Big Girl Knits.  This book has a "recipe" where you are supposed to be able to customize a sweater to fit you perfectly.  Let there be rejoicing in the land!

Miski brand new
I and a friend took an afternoon to measure each other's various dimensions.  These were not just bust and waist and hip, these were back and shoulder and forearm, and lengths and widths of things I never really thought about measuring before.  (See above, "Sweaters That Do Not Fit.")

Armed with this magical mathematical knowledge, I shopped for yarn.  I settled on a gorgeous lavender, heather-y baby llama, Miski by Mirasol.

The otherwise splendid, knowledgeable people at my then-LYS neglected to mention that baby llama, like alpaca, while delightfully drapey and soft, gets very heavy and loses its shape.  Especially when you need enormous quantities of yarn for a Grown-Woman-Who-Is-Not-a-Model Sized Sweater.

Not yet knitted
Remember the cotton drama?

Hm, yes, well, I was knitting and knitting, and following the recipe in the book, decreasing dutifully at the waist, and increasing after, and doing short rows for the absurdly ample bust, and cleverly doing a nice vee-neck which suits my Traditional Build, and at last I cast off and sewed the pieces together, and having finished my masterpiece enough to try it on, BEHOLD!

It was so drapey as to be downright revealing.

The vee-neck was plunging in a way that would suggest a starlet's gown at the Oscars, but trust me, I am no starlet, Scarlett.  And even those clever decreases were not enough to cinch in that saggy waist.

It was, in a word, deplorable.

Sigh.  On your mark, get set:  FROG.

So, for several years now, I have had a big bag full of crinkled, crumpled balls of yarn, old and used, never to regain the youthful spring in their step(s).


A vague memory came to me, of someone, somewhere, who repurposed old sweaters, or was it someone else who asked someone somewhere, how do you get the crinkle out of old yarn?

And the answer bubbled up into my brain like expensive champagne.

Yes, it was time to go to the yarn spa again!  (And now that the Festive Fish are gone, it's quiet and restful there.  They were such a rowdy bunch.)

I didn't even bother to google the topic.  I'm such a wild, carefree gal, I trusted my memory.  I wound one small ball of that used yarn into a hank, tied it in a couple of places, threw it in some cold water, and let it soak for a few minutes, just long enough to get the fibers wet.

On left, never worked yarn
On right, worked and frogged
In the middle:  revived!
Then I rolled it in a towel and let it sit for a minute or two, just to get the major dampness out, and then I hung it on a dryer rack and let nature run its course.

And it worked!

So I wound all the old yarn into hanks…

...and I soaked them all, a few at a time, and hung them up to dry.

While the yarn was still wet, it did not look promising.  But once it was dry, it was perfectly lofty and lovely again!

Now I have a great big honking pile of pretty yarn again, and I know now that baby llama is great for scarves and cowls and fingerless gloves and all manner of small things that will not drag themselves into never-before-seen and totally unsuitable shapes due to the force of gravity and the power of stretchiness.

All's well that ends well.

Tuesday, July 29, 2014

The Golden Cliffs of California

Someday, hope to quilt this:

Always an inspiring day at the beach.

The sun setting behind the cliffs created these amazing halos.

The only downside of the beaches around here is the tar.  Turns out, it is naturally occurring, or so I am told, and it has nothing to do, so they say, with the nine thousand or so oil rigs squatting like fat ugly bugs off the coast.

I now travel with a 'tar removal kit' consisting of Dawn detergent and a dish scrubbing pad for the really bad days, baby oil and cotton balls for the lighter days.

Kinda takes some of the joy out of a beach walk--but not enough to keep me from getting my feet wet, thinking about all the beauty in the world, and planning to knit, quilt, or crochet a version of everything in sight!

Saturday, July 26, 2014

A Patriotic Quilt Top

I committed recently to finishing one quilting UFO a month (see the 52 Quilts website for more details), and while I was finishing my June jelly roll project, I pulled out some fat quarters that I won during last year's Central Coast Quilt Shop Tour.

I am determined to use up my stash!  So I cut up the fabric in June, creating another UFO.  As if I didn't have ten UFOs already!  But this one looked so easy!  I couldn't wait to start sewing.

The patriotic theme of the fabrics fits perfectly with July 4th, although I didn't finish the top until July 13.  Yes, some of the fabrics are more modern than the others.  Yes, some of the white is white-white, and some is cream.  Who cares?!

I followed a pattern by Gail Abeloe from Back Porch Fabrics in Pacific Grove.  It's from a booklet called Top 10 Saturday Demo Patterns.

I added a couple of borders to make mine larger, since I had half the amount of fabric the original pattern called for.

I decided just the top counts as an FO, and even though it is still rather small, it would be a challenge to quilt it on my home machine, so I gave it to kindhearted Debbie to quilt for the Quilting Angels charity.

She has a longarm machine!  And she knows how slow a quilter I really am.

Fabric in, fabric out!  FIFO!