Thursday, March 29, 2007

Blanket Under Construction-2

First things first--A thousand thank yous to my "wonder publicist" Vicki from Knitorious !! She mentioned my last post on her blog. I received three times more comments than ever before!! Thank you dear Vicki. She also said that the "flag" blanket project that I described was the best knitting project she had ever seen. She was going too far, but I thank her from the bottom of my knitterly heart. It was a labor of true love and international understanding.

One or two of the comments from my last post asked how I sew the squares of the FLW blanket together. Here's what I have worked out ("unvented" as EZ would say) for joining the bias garter stitch squares.

I hold two squares so that they abut each other, right sides facing up. Basically, I sew into the garter ridge bump at the end of every other row, and I alternate sides. I slip the needle through the bump mid-way between the side and top of the bump.

Then, I go over to the other square and do the same thing.
Do not pull the yarn too tight; you will want the seam to have some "ease." For good measure, you can repeat this on the wrong side. This technique (which is probably simply the garter stitch mattress stitch) makes an almost completely reversible item if you stitch along only the front side.

I think that the resulting join/seam looks like a zipper, with the garter ridges interlocking.
I have been using the existing ends to sew the squares together. However, if you did not weave in the ends of yarn when changing colors, you could use those ends as well to make a perfectly invisible seam.
To hold everything together in a finished sort of way, we are knitting long strips of garter stitch (15 stitches wide and on size 5 needles--two sizes smaller than were used for the squares). The strips will be stretched slightly when I sew them onto the blanket. The blanket is quite heavy and I hope the strips will keep the blanket from distorting.
In my previous post, I bemoaned the many miles of stitching necessary to assemble this queen size coverlet! Here is one of my fellow group members, working hard during one of our two assembly meetings. People assembled the squares in groups of four, and I then sewed the groups of four together. Worked well.

Here's another group member paying very close attention to her sewing gauge!!

Our cat, Cosmic, has given the blanket his full approval. At this point, the blanket was 7 squares long and five squares wide. We decided to make another column of 7 squares to make the blanket 7 x 6--and just the right size for a coverlet on a queen size bed. We hope Frank Lloyd Wright would approve!!
Tonight I plan to assemble the last strip of squares. This weekend I will stitch the strips along the edges. As serious knitters, you might ask how I mitred the corners. Well, we didn't. FLW did not mitre the edges of the wood trim strips around windows and doors in our church. Rather, he extended the strips to abut each other. Therefore, I am taking the easy way out for knitting purposes and following his design techniques!!!

Thanks to those of you who sent good wishes for my brother. He got out of ICU yesterday and he should be going home tomorrow!!! He still needs to sleep at a 45 degree angle, not do anything stressful, etc., for a month. But, he is thrilled about being able to go home!! And we are thrilled for him. He has not uttered one word of complaint during this ordeal. He's a better person than I.

Sunday, March 25, 2007

Warning: Blanket Under Construction

There are two things that I love about knitting. (OK, there are more than two things, but for purposes of this post I'm only going to write about two!!)

The first is the process--knitting is meditative, challenging, creative, essential; it binds me to all those who make fabric with sticks and string since the beginning of the craft and until the end of time.

Second is the spirit of community that knitters share. I especially value group projects. Oh, I know, some group projects have turned out so unspeakably ugly that only their mother could love them. I've organized a number of group projects and they all have produced items more beautiful than you could imagine.

Before I describe the current project that is the topic of this post, let me brag about one of my other group projects.

I used to teach an after school knitting club at the neighborhood elementary school. The children at the school are from more than 50 different countries in the world, mainly due to the fact that the University's student family housing is close by. Every year the kids, the teachers, mothers, fathers, grandparents, the school principal and even the school nurse would knit squares that I would then sew into a patchwork afghan. In 2003 I designed patterns to knit the flags of all the countries represented in the school!! Children from first grade through fifth grade worked on squares/flags, along with teachers, parents, etc., etc. Everyone was so proud of the resulting blanket.
In addition to the sense of pride that all the children had (can you see it in their faces??) I was most pleased with the how the blanket brought together the parents from different, and sometimes warring, countries. Dozens of people at a time crowded around the blanket at the annual school auction to locate their flag, or the flag someone they knew worked on. The blanket created a world community. I was hooked on group blankets!! (click the photo for a larger view.)

This year I started a fiber arts circle at my church. The ten of us meet regularly to create a smaller community within the larger community of our church. We bring our handwork--everyone knits, but some members are mainly quilters, or mainly weavers. We explore ourselves and our spirituality through the commonality of our love for working with fiber.

(NOW to the group project!!!)
The ten of us decided to make a blanket for the church auction in April. Because our church was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright we decided to make a blanket that is inspired by the the structure and the colors of our church. We debated the merits of various designs, various techniques and various colors. We debated the merits of everyone following a pattern versus everyone riffing on a theme. We talked about gauge and needle size. We talked about the number of squares and the size of squares. I talked about the mind numbing task of sewing the squares together, making an edging, etc.

We finally agree to knit bias squares, with mandatory color changes every 12 garter ridges and permissive color changes every 6 garter ridges except for the beginning and ending 12 garter ridges. We agreed on a gauge that would result in squares 11 inches on each side.

We selected colors from our church--the famous Frank Lloyd Wright brick red, the gold and tan of the limestone walls, the teal and greens of the bench cushions, the greens of the well loved trees on the property. We also took found these colors in the original drapery designed and woven by Frank Lloyd Wright's wife Oglivanna and women of the church. The drapery wore out years ago and is gone, except for a restored section that is on display in a locked case. We examined the drapery and found shades of purple, which we included in our squares. We went to a local yarn shop to select yarn and colors. We took a color card to our church, holding tiny bits of yarn to stone, floor, cushion and drapery. We held a meeting to wind the 33 skeins of Cascade 220 into small and medium size balls--five swifts and ball winders attached to a dining room table!!
Then, we retreated to our homes, to cafes, to automobiles, etc., to knit our squares.

As any experienced knitter would expect, the squares were somewhat irregular in size and the "rules" were followed to the best of the knitters' interpretations. Each knitter was proud of her work and eager to see the result.

We held a meeting at the studio of a group member who is a fabulous weaver--and who has a large table.

Ok. We had 35 squares to arrange. Five on one side and seven on the other side. My scientist husband (PhD from MIT) says that the number of possible arrangements of 35 squares in a 5 x 7 format is either 612 or "35 factorial". (my brother--a MENSA member--tried to calculate 35 factorial on my daughters fancy calculator and received the message "overflow error." ) I think we tried every arrangement with the squares on the table--our brains were definitely on "overflow error" mode! (My daughter just calculated 35 factorial on her calculator and received the answer of 1 followed by 40 zeros!!!!)

The results are fantastic, we think. The photos do not do the colors justice, however. The flash of the camera made the colors too bright and garish.

thirty five squares are sewn together as I write this. However, 35,000 ends need to be sewn in. We also need another column of seven squares. "Emergency volunteers" are knitting them as we speak. Also, more "emergency knitters" are knitting long 15 stitch bands of dark brick red to "frame" the blanket. It will be big enough for a coverlet on a queen size bed.

The blanket construction takes place at my house. It currently occupies the living room floor. It also occupies all of my knitting time for the moment. Group members stop by to drop off squares, strips or just to view the blanket-under-construction.

I will keep you posted on the progress.

Monday, March 19, 2007

Knit on, through all crises

More Crises
I don't know if you recall, but my youngest brother (age 45) had a stroke last fall. His recovery has been slow. Although he has been back at work, he is able to work only part time. In addition, his vision is not sufficiently restored to be able to drive or read well. Each day involves a tremendous amount of effort, physical as well as emotional.
Last Friday, after a week of full time days at work, he developed severe headaches. Although he went to the ER twice, the diagnosis was only tension headache. Finally, on Sunday morning, his vision was worse. One eye drifted off to the far side and his eyelid was closed. Another trip to the ER resulted in a MRI, which showed a tumor on his pituitary gland that had swollen and bled, resulting in pressure on his optic nerves. The headaches were the first sign of the swollen and bleeding tumor. Last night he had emergency neuro surgery to remove the pituitary gland. Once again he is in the hospital. Pituitary surgery would be difficult enough, but the recovery is compounded by his ongoing, slow recovery from his stroke.
I went to the ER and hospital last night to stay with my sister-in-law. The surgery went well and there will be further tests, etc., today. My brother is absolutely exhausted, as one might expect.

My Knitting Life
My knitting seems to pale in comparison with the seriousness of my brother's situation. However, my last two posts have not shared any photos, and I am proud of my few efforts on the knitting front. My graduate school projects have taken precedence this semester!!!

Saving Well Loved Mittens
First of all, my wonderful nordic mittens from Charlene Schurch's book wore thin. I described this problem in a previous post. The angora contrast yarn did not stand up to normal wear. Here you can see the broken and thin light blue angora.
I love these mittens. So, I dedicated two days to duplicate stitching all of the light blue angora on the palms and thumbs. I know, perhaps this angora will also wear away. But, I love the feel of the angora on the inside. Now, with duplicate thickness, I am hoping for two more years of wear.

Inability To Save Cold Teenage Feet
I have also been trying to make something that my 15 year old daughter will wear. She is the yarn-heathen, conservative fashionista. She won't wear anything that will call attention to herself. This means, she must wear only what EVERYONE else is wearing. Nothing on the fringe. It's cold here in Wisconsin in the winter!! She wears little white cotton sock-ettes and clog type shoes. She walks home from school, in the snow and cold, and her toes are blue with cold when she arrives home. I thought I had the perfect solution!! Wool sock-ettes!!! Fashion perfect. Hidden by the long jeans!!! Keep the toes warm. I used sock yarn she had admired.
See, aren't they cute and perfect??
I was very impressed with them. I used a picot hem at the top. And, they even fit!!

I bet the Yarn Harlot's three teen-age daughters would LOVE to have such a pair of sock-ettes!!! These socks, however, have stayed out of sight in my daughter's sock drawer since they were finished. They have never seen the light of day, much less the dark of the inside of a pair of shoes. Daughter-dear says she loves the socks. She just won't wear them. They would make her stand out. "People" will laugh. Other people would not be seen dead in such socks. Sigh..........

Saving My Sanity
I tend to take my laptop to knitting cafes in order to do homework for my courses this semester. Usually I have a small project in my backpack, purse or car and I struggle with concentrating on my homework when the project is whining and begging. Two weeks ago I was at the knitting cafe with NO PROJECT!!! I worked on my homework, but then I couldn't stand it any longer. My fingers itched. My brain needed the salve of rhythmic repetitive actions. I gave in. I purchased some yarn and some needles. Size 4. I have at least 10 size 4 needles--either straight pairs or every length of circular--at home. But I needed the NOW!! I purchased some hand dyed sock yarn and cast on. Here's the result.
A one-skein Seafoam stitch narrow scarf. 36 stitches wide. Size four needles. Aren't those colors fabulous????
Unfortunately, in my crazed, addicted state of mind at the yarn shop, rushed to get the project on the needles, I ripped off the ball band and tossed it aside. I believe it is ArtYarns sock yarn. Don't know which colorway.

Socks For Me!!!
The two pair of Lucy Neatby Mermaid Socks that I made before Christmas went to good feet, but not my feet. Daughter #1 took the blue ones. Step-daughter took the fall colored ones. My feet needed some of those spectacular, snug-but-not-too-tight fitting socks. So, I cast on for myself.

Sock #1 done, sock #2 on the way. Don't you just love what this pattern does to self striping yarns?? It looks like entrelac, but it's not. Lucy Neatby, you're my hero!!

Church Project
I haven't blogged about this yet. My church has been growing in the past few years and we have missed the intimacy of the smaller congregation. As a result, the church started some Chalice Groups--small groups of 10 or so who meet regularly to explore some theme of issues and to create community. I decided that knitting, as a spiritual/creative activity, was a good theme for a Chalice Group. I started a group of fiber artists--some knitters, weavers, quilters--and we meet monthly. Each Chalice Group must do a service project. We decided to make a blanket for our upcoming church auction. Our church building was designed by Frank Lloyd Wright and it is too small for the congregation. We are in the process/throes of having an addition designed and built. In honor of our historic structure (which remains intact) we selected colors and themes from the building. The blanket is still under construction--as will be the new addition at the time of the auction! Here are some sneak previews.

Square-placement design is driving us nuts!!!!

Milestones Reached
Daughter #2 has received her learner's permit for driving. Thus far she has spent 2 hours behind the wheel in a large and almost-empty parking lot. I was along for one of the sessions, in the back seat knitting and providing moral support. Dad was in the front seat giving directions. Daughter was behind the wheel nervously trying to accelerate to 15 mph, turn square corners,, etc, and telling Dad that his directions were confusing. Dad was trying to defend his instructions. I was trying to mediate. Knitting was essential to sanity.

I leave you with photos of our favorite season--SNOW!!! All the snow here is gone and spring bulbs are forcing up their tentative green shoots. We miss our snowman and snow tunnel.

Happy Spring to All!!!

Monday, March 12, 2007

el once de marzo

Here in the USA we tend to focus only on September 11 as the day our world changed forever. However, we need to remember that in Madrid, Spain, on March 11, 2004 terrorists detonated multiple bombs in train stations and on trains during the busy commuter time. Ten simultaneous explosions on four trains at 8:00 a.m. killed 191 people and wounded more than 1700 more. Yesterday, Spain honored the dead and wounded with a stunning glass memorial. In memory of those killed and injured by terrorist bombings the world over, let us all take the opportunity to learn more about those who are different than we are, about those from other countries and cultures and those who do not share our same religion. Reach out to someone you would not ordinarily talk with. Make the world smaller and more tolerant with your own actions. Maybe we knitters can begin to change the world!!

Wednesday, March 07, 2007

Not knitting!

I am sitting in a local yarn/coffee shop with NO knitting in my bag. How did that happen??? I have my laptop and my homework for three classes. Am I doing homework?? No. I'm browsing through knitting books I have already memorized, I'm inspecting yarn on the shelves and in bins, and I'm contemplating purchasing needles and yarn for a new project. Not that I need a new project mind you; I have several projects on the needles at home. I find it soooooo hard to focus on my homework.

The past few weeks have been filled with homework, visits from my parents, cooking, cleaning, shoveling snow, grocery shopping. Not much time left for knitting. Why is the world so incredibly boring without knitting? I despair at the fact I am not sufficiently witty or creative to make a living on writing about knitting or designing knitting patterns. Spending my life centered around knitting, wouldn't that be wonderful???

I don't have my camera with me so I can't show you the gorgeous view from the window--beautiful blue ski and the dazzling white snow atop the frozen lake. Ice fishermen are huddled on their overturned pails or cozy inside their shanties hoping for the best perch/bluegill/other fish to bite. I'm inside the shop, seated next to the window, drinking a latte and munching on some cherry/flax/pecan bread. I don't think you could ever get me to sit on a frozen lake, atop a plastic pail, with a string hanging through a hole in the ice--not unless it was warm enough to take off my mittens and knit. In that case, it would be too dangerous to be out on the frozen lake.

Alas, I also can't show you the pair of Lucy Neatby Marietta socks I finished for myself, made out of flourescent green, yellow and black Trekking yarn, or the first of a pair of Mermaid Socks, another Lucy Neatby pattern, made out of some rose and green Trekking. The first of the Marietta socks is here. Thankfully, I can't show you that I've made NO progress on my husband's Dale sweater. However, I would like to show you that I actually duplicate stitched the palms of a pair of Norwegian mittens I made last winter--I used angora for the lighter color and it did not hold up to wear on the palms. I won't make that mistake again. It took an entire Harry Potter movie plus an evening of CSI to repair the palms. I must remember that angora is only for dress mittens, not for everyday use. It feels sooooo soft, but it doesn't stand up to driving, opening doors, running the snowblower, etc.

I'm sure my husband would want me to take a photo of the 15 balls of yarn sitting on a table in the family room since Thanksgiving. I intended to use up that yarn before Christmas on hats, scarves, etc, etc. I still haven't put it away. I'm relieved I can't show you that I have not yet removed the Christmas decorations from the front door. We still have deep snow on the ground, so the season isn't officially over!!

Thanks for listening to me. I will return to my homework--an analysis of Walk Two Moons, an essay for Spanish 226, and planning an interactive instructional technology lesson. Urgh........