Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Working the Wonderful Wallaby

When I was younger, I never felt the ticking of a biological clock warning me that time was running out for reproduction. Somehow I managed to have children nevertheless. I had one child at age 27 (planned) and another at age 42 (unplanned) and each one provided a different and exciting foray into motherhood. However, neither provided an opportunity to knit cute little baby things. I was working full time when pregnant with each child; and as they grew I continued to work. I sewed lots of clothes, nightgowns, doll clothes and Beanie Baby outfits, but I never had the time to knit.

Now that I am a woman of "a certain age" and have time to knit, my grandmother biological clock is ticking loudly; it's screaming "I want grandchildren, NOW!!" Maybe it is that I want little ones for whom I can knit cute little Dale of Norway sweaters, dresses, hats, mittens-- you name it, I want to make it--preferably for little girls. I want to knit frills and flowers. Alas, neither my husband's older daughter nor mine want children. Therefore, I have "adopted" two little boys as my "surrogate grandchildren." (I couldn't find any little girls; besides, we like the parents and we weren't about to dictate the gender of their children!) Thomas and Sean are 4.5 and 2.3 years old, energetic, noisy and adventuresome. Not frilly. Not pink. After having girls, I am astounded at the energy packed into these two little male bodies! These guys need clothing that will stand up to tough wear and that can go directly into the washer and dryer after rolling in the mud.

What to do?? The Wonderful Wallaby to the rescue!!! (Despite the comments that follow, the Wonderful Wallaby is a fantastic pattern, quick to knit, ingenious, etc. Make one, or two!)
LinkNo fuss knitting, no fuss wear and no fuss care. These are knitted hooded sweatshirts, with kangaroo pouch pockets and no-drawstring hoods. Pattern by Carol Anderson, from 1984, but not out of print. Carol Anderson channels Elizabeth Zimmerman--both overlapped with their knitting in Wisconsin and I believe Carol attended the early knitting camps. Carol started "Cottage Creations" for her no fuss creative patterns, illustrated by her artist-daughter. She now lives in Iowa and has numerous grandchildren. Unfortunately, she doesn't have a website. But, you can find her patterns here. If you haven't tried one of her no-nonsense, clever, knit-all-in-one-piece patterns, try one.

The Wallaby has only two small seams--the underarm stitches. I'm not going to show you the arm pits of the blue sweater. That was my first Wallaby, and I must admit that my fudging in the pits will not stand the scrutiny of blogdom. But, by the time I got to the arm pits of the second, green sweater, I was ready for prime time--or so I thought.

Here's the sweater when it comes off the needles, needing only grafting of the underarm stitches to the matching number of body stitches. Easy, right? I've done lots of sock toes. I can do this, no sweat. Hmmmmmm, Knitting Rule #10: Beware the technique that seems easy!"

Here's the raw pit:

Here's the full sweater just off the needles. Minimal finishing required. Should take just 5 minutes tops!
See the gap between the last live stitch on the underarm, and the first stitch on the body?? Note: stitches are held on fuschia sock yarn. That is not blood and arteries showing.
Well, I thought, this is a minimal finishing sweater. The directions say only to graft the stitches, and you're done!! I told myself that gap will disappear in the grafting!!! Lies, all lies. I know these boys play hard, but I don't think they need ventilation holes in the underarms of their sweaters. Somehow I had to close the gaps.
I can't really explain what I did. I tugged and pulled at the adjacent stitches, hoping to reduce the size of the holes. Didn't work. So I did a version of duplicate stitch and creation of new stitches to work the gaps together. I think it turned out well. At least, I'm counting on the Thomas and Sean not to examine the arm pits closely. I'm pretty sure their first response on opening the presents will not be, "Oh, cool sweaters. Let's check out the finishing details!" Rather, I think they will say, "Sweaters??!! Where are the toys?? !!" I'm thinking of getting some little matchbox cars to put in the pockets. Little cute knitted bears won't cut it with these guys.
Lucy Neatby to the Rescue!
A few days after finishing these sweaters, I watched a Lucy Neatby DVD about socks. She demonstrates how to eliminate the little holes created when picking up stitches for the heel gusset. I can't quite imitate Lucy's succinct description of the technique--basically she sews a little circle around the hole, on the reverse side, then pulls the circle taught. She makes a duplicate stitch over the tightened hole on the right side and, ahoy matey, the hole is ship shape and all is well! I'll remember this on my next Wallaby!

I think my next wallaby will be fitted in the body and made out of a merino/angora yarn I've had in my stash for a while. And, it will be for me!!

Friday, November 09, 2007

Seafoam Stitch blocking tutorial

I know, I've been ignoring my blog. Sometimes life just gets in the way. However, I've been knitting like crazy on Christmas presents. This year I will reprise my successful Basket of HandKnit Items, from which family members and friends can select a present. This year the basket will be filled with scarves and socks. Last year it was mainly hats.

This year I am in production knitting mode for the basket. I find that I am more broadminded than others, even if I say so myself, on what type of hand knitted items I will wear. Therefore, rather than getting "creative" with my knitting, this year I am sticking with a scarf pattern on which I have received rave reviews from recipients and observers alike--a one-skein scarf using the seafoam stitch. I should carry patterns for this scarf because MANY people, knitters and non-knitters alike, ask me how I made the scarf when I wear one.

I recently drove my parents to Colorado to visit my sisters in Denver and Boulder. When I was not driving, I worked on a seafoam stitch scarf. My mother fell in love with the scarf and decided that she would make one for a Christmas present. However, my mother hates knitting. She hates building fabric one stitch at a time. But, she can't bring her sewing machine with her when she spends a month in Colorado. Therefore, to pass the time in Colorado, she decided that she would knit. Otherwise, she spends all of her time cleaning my sisters' houses. (Somehow, the "keep the house clean" gene did not find its way to any of my mother's three daughters!!)

My mom is an insecure knitter. Every wrapped stitch and evolving pattern in the scarf on her needles is examined for perfection. I keep telling her, "Relax, mom. Blocking will eliminate all the perceived problems and you will have a gorgeous finished object. " She doesn't believe me. She wants it all to be perfect while still on the needles!

This post is my "blocking tutorial" for my mom and for whomever needs a little knitting reassurance on-line. Believe me, it's hard for a scarf to go wrong with the seafoam stitch and some pretty handpainted yarn. (Mom, I know that you are not working with Koigu yarn, and the following photos show a scarf in Koigu. If your scarf doesn't look exactly like this one it's OK. Yours will also be beautiful!!)

Mom, this is for you!


Step 1: Soak the finished item in cool water for 30 minutes.

See how some of the scarf is dark purple and some is light purple? The light purple portion of the scarf is floating on top of the water. Wait until all of the scarf is underwater! You need to have every little wool fiber saturated with water. That's why I said to soak the scarf for 30 minutes. If your scarf is saturated in 15 minutes, move to step 2. Don't shortchange the soaking.

Step 2: Squish the water out of the scarf by pressing it against the side of the sink bowl. (Oh, don't forget to pull the drainplug first!!) DO NOT WRING the scarf. Just gently squish it against the side of the bowl. Don't worry if the scarf is still dripping when you move to step 3.

Step 3: Plop the scarf onto a towel and fold the towel over the scarf.
Step 4: Stomp on the towel.
Step 5: Spread out the scarf on a bed sheet on top of a bed or on a floor carpet. I spread a bed sheet out on the living room floor carpet. You need something underneath the sheet into which you will stick pins.
Step 6: On one end of the scarf, pin out the points created by the seafoam stitch pattern; see below.

Step 7: With your hand, gently pull out the scarf until you have the degree of "airy-ness" that you want in the scarf. Mom, with the yarn you are using, you will need to stretch the scarf quite a bit to get it long enough to be a scarf.

Don't worry, you stretch as you go with the pinning. The yarn won't break. As you can see in the photo, I put a pin at each segment along the edge where there is an accumulation of four ridges of garter stitch.

I also spread out the scarf width-wise as I pin, because when I stretched the scarf for length, the scarf got too skinny. The un-pinned section of the scarf is on the left of the photo above. The pinned portion is on the right of the photo.

Step 8: Now, after you have finished pinning out the scarf, with points pinned out on each end, you can check the seafoam ovals for perfection!

Ah, HA! I found a wiggly strand in a seafoam oval!!! Look just to the right to the yellow-headed pin that is on the middle left of the scarf photo below! Baaadd, baaaadd, baaaadd!!!
I would just leave it alone. But I know, Mom, that this will bug you to your grave! So, get out a pointy object, like a knitting needle, and stick it under that wiggly strand. Give the needle a tug.
When you gently tug the strand, you will see or feel a neighboring strand move and become straight. Go in the opposite direction, gently tugging successive strands, until you have worked in the excess wiggles of that miscreant wiggly strand. For a moment, it will look as if you have created more of a mess than you had in the first place. Keep cool. As you work along, you will see that you have used up the excess and the oval now looks perfect. If it doesn't look perfect to you, just tug at the scarf as a whole around that area. It will all work in. See photo below for proof!
See mom, I told you so! It will all work out in the blocking!! Good luck on your scarf!!! Hugs and kisses to you and Dad, and to the dogs and cats and humans at the places you are visiting!!

Love, Gail