Tuesday, January 31, 2012

The Question of Quality

I've always been a pretty forgiving knitter, accepting that not everything comes out perfect and that mistakes make a piece more unique and "yours". However, lately I've discovered that not all mistakes our the knitter's fault. Sometimes it's the yarn.

Have you ever seen a yarn in a shop and fallen in love? Usually for me it's a yarn's colorway that draws me in. Contrary to popular belief, color is not everything. Take for example my current WIP, Pink Spiral Scarf. The yarn is Regia Hand Dye effect, something I purchased over a year ago at the yarn shop in Salina because I loved the color and thought it would make beautiful socks. I pulled the skein out a few weeks ago and looked up reviews on Ravelry. As it turns out, not a lot of people like this yarn. And I am definitely one of them. It's not very soft, really slick, and has this weird white thread that comes unwound from the ball as I go. If I had even tryed to make socks with it, they'd turn out awful. So I settled on a fairly easy, yet pretty shawl/scarf pattern. I like the pattern, but the yarn is not doing it justice. I'll probably finish it just to finish it and clear it out of my stash, but it's safe to say I will never buy this yarn again. I heard Regia makes some other great sock yarns, anyone have any experience with them?

This isn't the first time I've been worried about quality. I purchased some Mission Falls Merino a long time ago to make worsted socks for my mom. I had read on Ravelry that Mission Falls was a great worsted yarn and very luscious to work with so I figured I'd give it a try. After getting done with one whole sock I stopped. That sock is still in a bag in my drawer with the extra yarn for it's mate. I just couldn't get into the yarn; it lefts fuzzies everywhere and I heard that it doesn't wash up very well. Yet another yarn I will likely not purchase again. It's too bad too, because the socks are kinda pretty.

My final issue comes with the "Big Box Stores". I've noticed lately that stores such as Hobby Lobby have been selling yarns that contain less acrylic than they used to. Oddly enough, many LYS's are starting to carry many more acrylic blends and aren't as snobby as they once were towards acrylic yarns. This doesn't mean I will be buying any yarn from Big Box Stores any of them anytime soon. Just because the label says "wool" on it doesn't make it good quality wool. I saw some really pretty gradated Lion Brand that is mostly wool, but it was much scratchier than any wool I've ever seen at my LYS. Still, most yarns I have come to love contain at least 1/3 acrylic. My old standby has always been Berroco Vintage, which is 50% acrylic. I've made many accessories with Caron Simply Soft, my standby (yet trying to get away from) big box acrylic yarn. The biggest issue I have with Hobby Lobby and it's mates is the fact that many of their yarns lately have been clones of their companions at the LYS. I feel like this takes away from the whole LYS experience, something I'm not even going to go into right now.

(My effortless cardigan WIP, which is made from Vintage, 50% acrylic, 40% wool, 10% nylon)

This leads to my question. How does quality play into your yarn selections? Do you ever think about it when you are picking out a new yarn? What about acrylic, is there a place for it among the natural and "better" quality fibers?

Sometime I just wish I could look up the Ravelry comments right there in my LYS before I purchased a new yarn.


Sunday, January 22, 2012

Adventures in Colorwork

Colorwork. Fair Isle. Intarsia. All three of these words used to strike fear to my heart when I heard them. Come of the most beautiful patterns involve colorwork, but this also means they are usually some of the most complicated. I always knew colorwork would be one thing I would likely not pursue in my knitting journey, as it looked complicated and also I just didn't like how you could create almost any image out of it. From animals to flowers to cartoon characters, the possibilities with colorwork are endless.So where am I going with this? Well I guess it all starts with my good friend Ivy. About a month ago she posted one of her first color work projects, this hat:

The pattern is called Opus Spicatum and it is one of the most beautiful Fair Isle patterns that I've seen in awhile, and yet so basic. Upon seeing hers I knew that I wanted one of my own. But man, it was a fair isle project! That meant I'd have to overcome my fear of colorwork once and for all. I knew I was ready to try something new, so I added "Try (and hopefully succeed) in at least color work type project, weather it be fair isle, intarsia, etc" to my Fiber Resolutions 2012 list.

The next step was finding the perfect yarn. It had to be something I loved because I wanted to be able to wear it a lot. Well on a trip to the LYS in Salina over break I came across James C. Brett Monsoon. Once again it was love at first sight, and I quickly grabbed up a skein without thinking twice.
Now one of the things I really like is putting a gradated yarn with black, so I went straight to my old standard: Berocco Vintage, in black, for the other color on this hat. There's something about rainbow yarn and black that just kinda works.

I had to make a few alterations to the pattern before I could get started. One, I only had size 8 in my 16 inch needles and magic loop would be torture for this one so I had to change the stitch count. Two, the pattern is for a slouchy hat, and I wanted a beanie (now I'm wishing I had made it slouchy though). And 3, I wanted it a little bit taller than the pattern chart showed (and it still needs to be a bit taller...).

So I set to work. I cast on 80, which was the recommended stitch count given my gauge and the size I wanted for the hat. A few rows after the the brim I realized it was way to small, so I ripped it out and tried 100, only to find that was much to big. I settled with the in between, which was 90. It's still a bit small, but the chart is in multiples of 10 so that had to do.

Oddly enough, I made very quick work of this hat. Maybe the fact that the color shifts were so close to each other helped, but I was able to get this thing done in a couple days flat. I really like how it turned out and my only problem is that I wish I could make it a bit longer still. I hate altering patterns because I never know how long to go before I start decreasing, and almost always end too soon. This hat barely goes over my ears.

In the end, I really and truely love this hat and how it turned out. Considering that both yarns are atleast 50% acrylic, it is a very thick and warm hat (probably because of the stranding going on inside!) The monsoon yarn has some stripes of blue and orange in it that I wish had come up for this one, because the pink and green is a little too repetitive, but I have over half of both skeins left, which means more hats! I went through the patterns on Ravelry and found a bunch more fair isle hats I want to try now. However, I don't have enough/a good selection of yarns in my stash for most of them, so it will have to wait. I am still keeping to my Stash Attack 2012 and plan to for as long as possible.

I am thinking for my next hat I may try something along these lines: Zig Zag Hat. I saw a kid in one of my classes wearing a similar one on Wednesday and pictured my black and rainbow looking perfect in it. What do you think?

Conquering my fear of colorwork has never been more fun, but sadly I am finally starting Spring semester here at KSU and that means less knitting and more work. I can't seem to get into this semester like I usually do, and that's a very scary thought. Maybe I just need a knitting break for awhile...


Tuesday, January 17, 2012

Scotland Revisited

No, I am not going back to Scotland. I sure wish though. However, I did spend much of my Christmas vacation working with yarns I got while I was there this summer. Maybe I just don't buy enough wool, but all the wool I bought while I was there is somewhat scratchy, scratchier than normal but sure does seem to work well at doing it's purpose: keeping me warm.

While staying in Edinburgh, I went by a cute little knitting 'boutique' - K1 Knitting - and managed to find a couple different "Spun/dyed in Scotland yarns". While I was hoping to find more handspun type yarns what I did find was still not the norm for here in the United Stated. I managed to walk away that day with 2 balls of dk weight wool and 2 balls of a wool/angora blend.

The wool/angora blend was all set to become a cats paw scarf, a pattern I also bought at this shop, because I needed something to work on while I was over there. I didn't much done on it, mostly because I lost a needle on my plane trip back and now I am not liking the pattern. See for yourself. Should I frog it? Or keep going?? My issue is that it's really wide, and scarves get very boring for me after awhile, especially when they are the wider ones.

With the wool I purchased, I decided to try my first attempt at fingerless gloves. You probably saw these in a former blog post. I playfully call them my "Ness X Gloves" because the color of the yarn was titled "Ness" appropriately. The entire glove is an improvisation of about 4 different patterns.

After finishing them, I realized that they weren't fully ideal for the long walks to class carrying art supplies, but loved how warm my wrists were (thank you 100% wool!) so decided to use the extra to knit flaps onto them and make them convertible. And thus my new set of convertible mittens came about last week. I personally love these and am considering publishing the pattern. Any thoughts?

While visiting the Isle of Skye and the Highlands we saw many, many, many sheep and it made me want wool! There were a few shops here and there advertising home spun yarns, but we couldn't stop anywhere and it made me sad. You can imagine how estatic I was when we went into the gift shop at one of the castles and I found a whole rack of hand spun Skye wool! I quickly grabbed up the most natural yet pretty yarns I could find.

Upon winding and working with these yarns, I have established that the spinner probably did not treat her wool before/after spinning it, as it is sticky and still has some bits of hay here and there. It's also very scratchy and uneven. But I love it none the same. Having come from another country and being hand spun makes it really special to me.

I didn't know the yardage of this yarn, so I didn't want to risk starting something and running out. So I settled on my standby headband. I chose a different pattern this time though: Serendipity Ear Band, and after much struggle with the crochet parts, managed to produce this:

It's scratchy yet warm, and very pretty and large. It looks pretty good on me and I have enough yarn I could probably make a second.

Overall, all my fiber finds in Scotland were successful and it makes me want to travel more just to check out the different local yarns. Anyone reading ever been anywhere outside of the USA and experienced some fun yarns? I would love to hear and learn all about international fibers.


Thursday, January 12, 2012

Intermediate Oil Paint 2011

For all of my readers who may not have known, I am currently an art student, with a concentration in Painting and Drawing. This previous semester I took Drawing 3, which I have posted many pictures from, and Intermediate Oils, which I haven't shared anything from yet. Well Intermediate oils definitely kicked my butt, but I learned so much in the process and I am finally willing to show my work to the world.

*Please note I am still a student, and therefore nothing here is 'perfect'-- I'm still learning after all.

Our first assignment was a still life set up of only white things. The one I did was white paper tacked to the wall. The idea was to learn about color and how warms come forward and cools go back and about intensities and such. My teacher absolutely loved this painting and it was the one that reassured for me that I am meant to be a painter.

Staying along the lines of the white objects, our next was to create an environment in a box and spray paint the whole thing white, then paint from it using a color scheme we found in an art magazine. I really like this painting, my teacher not so much, and I understand why. The colors are cool though :)

The second half of the semester was working from the figure. I was scared to death when this started, and I still do not like figure work, but I think my end results were pretty good. I wish I could take what I learned from that first project about color and intensity and apply it better to works like this. Maybe I'm just scared, because why would a blue cloth have purple in it? But that is something I plan to work on next year in advanced.

Our final assignment was a life size self portrait, and it was primarily out of class work. Everyone pretty much did themselves in 'real' poses, but I knew I wanted to push my self, something I had been doing all semester. So I decided to do myself, looking in the mirror, with the mirror reflecting my mind AKA "Get me out of here!" This thing has been torture from the start. It had it's highs and lows and very lows than somewhat highs and well I finally finished it. I don't think it's my best work, and there are still things I'd like to fix, but I'm out of time and patience, so it's the best it's going to be. Once again, I want to apply my color knowledge more, but it's so hard! Overall I think I did a pretty good job and looking back, I never could have painted this a year ago.

Oh and sorry the photo is so small. It doesn't do much justice to the final piece, which is 7ft tall by 5ft wide. (if you click it gets bigger)

So now you've seen my art. What do you think? Where should I go next? Advanced painting is next year, and that's when we finally get to do whatever we want. It's kinda scary really, because I have ideas, but they're all with the figure, something I still dislike. Maybe someday the figure I will just get along!


Tuesday, January 10, 2012

Stash Attack 2012

I have been thinking about money a lot lately and how to make my budget go farther this year without taking it out of savings for no reason. After much thought I have come to the conclusion that a lot my impulse buys last year were on yarn and in figuring this out, I have decided to challenge myself this year. The idea I have is kinda scary, because yarn shops are constantly getting new yarns and having sales, and I'm one of those people who is always afraid that it won't be there next time so I have to buy it now. ie: Wildflower now has a whole section of sale yarns and it sounds very tempting. But looking back, a lot of the yarn I purchased last year is still in my stash. I also have a whole plastic drawer full of yarn, and after my recent purchases in Salina, I don't think I can even try and stuff more in it. My roommates laugh, and I'm starting to see why. So I am presenting myself with the following challenge:

In an attempt to reduce my stash, from now until next December I will only knit with yarn I already own.

And to make it easier on myself I am posting a list on a new page, (see links above) with a complete list of every yarn in my stash. When I decide to make a new project I will cross the yarn off the list. Wish me luck and check back for updates on my Stash Attack 2012!

(It looks like so much more when you take it out of the drawers! And this isn't even counting the cotton I have in the other one)


Friday, January 6, 2012

A Warm Wool Winter

Winter vacation is always a great time for getting some serious knitting done, and this year was no exception. I still have a week left of break, and it will be spent finishing a painting, working at the pre-school and hopefully some more knitting time!

Winter vacation was barely winter this year. The weather has been in the 40's and 50's the whole time and we have only had one fluke snow storm here in Kansas. The combination of the warm weather and the excessive fiber art that was going on in my house leads me to call this a very Warm Wool Winter.

The first thing I decided to conquer with my newly found free time was this amazing pair of socks.

Knitted using magic loop, one at a time, and Zitron Trekking 6ply (one of my new favorite sock yarns, yet very hard to find). The pattern is Soft Waves from the book Toe-up Two at a Time Socks, which I used to teach my self the toe up technique, something I had never tried before. I think it was a complete success!

While I was knitting on the socks, I was also finishing up my purple wool that I started way back this summer. I managed to finish this by the end of week one, and got it plyed and set on Christmas Day.

As a knitter, I couldn't just let the yarn sit in a plastic bag in my drawer. So I decided that there was actually enough to make something with and found the perfect pattern: Diagonal ribbed cowl. Knit on size 8 fixed circs, I had this thing done in less than 3 days.

Finishing this led me to need a new project to work on and so I decided to spin up the amazing 100% alpaca roving I purchased back in October. It was so soft, but really hard to draft because of this. The end result is something I am really proud of and one of the better yarns I ever spun.

The original roving was black, tan and white striped, so I didn't want to lose that pretty design in the final product and therefor I didn't pull apart pieces the way I usually do, and in turn I didn't produce as much yarn. I did produce enough to finish a hat though! The had is very soft and I absolutely love it! It's a little big, which means I should have cast on a few less stitches, but when you have thick and thin yarn (like all my handspun tends to be) it's hard to figure out the gauge, let alone knit a gauge swatch. That's one of my goals, to one day be able to figure out the gauge and 'weight' of the yarn that I have spun.

In between the cowl and the hat I was able to work on my Effortless Cardigan and it is slowly coming together. It still has quite a bit to go though.

With one week left, I plan to work on my ever growing collection of Relay for Life Dishcloths; hopefully I'll get 2 or 3 more done, so I can have a decent amount to sell this spring at farmer's market.

I hope all my readers are enjoying any time off and are keeping to any New Years resolutions. Until next time,