Archive | March, 2012

Wool Dying and Sweater Blocking

28 Mar
And just in time for the resurfacing of a little season-appropriate weather I’ve finally finished a long-running sweater project I’ve been picking up and putting down for over a year. 
It started with a box of white virgin wool that a dear friend of mine gave to me. 
Her father is an antiques dealer and she went with him on one of his estate excursions, and picked out this gift that only a knitter would truly covet. The white of the yarn was pure and bright in a way that doesn’t really fit with my palette, so I didn’t use it until the brilliant thought occurred to me that I could dye it. 
I considered writing my own pattern for the sweater, as I have done a few times in the past, but I have learned that making your own pattern can really complicate things. I don’t have anyone to check my math and knit me samples and edit my patterns. And with all that time and labor, no one wants to re-knit a sweater. So unless undeniable inspiration strikes, for the time being I am sticking to published patterns. For this sweater I found my pattern on Knitty, an exhaustible, but good free online pattern library. I knit cardigan “Zora”.
I decided to knit first and dye second, a.k.a. garment dying. I wanted a single, solid color and particularly for yarn balled up like mine it is the easier option. You could dye yarn sold in a skein (when you untwist it, it unfolds to a big circle), especially if you’re interested in making self-striping yarn. 
So anyway, for the past year-plus I have been occasionally visiting my Zora, knitting straight from the pattern in the original white of the yarn. Until last week, I finished.
I pieced her together and began a little online research about dying wool. I’ve used the Procion MX fiber reactive dyes recommended by my professors in my fashion school days before and had some lying around. I’ve used it on cotton, silk, and rayon, but never on wool. And it turns out, wool is more finicky, but certainly dyable. Procion MX dyes can be purchased at any art supply store worth its salt. It comes in about a million shades (if you buy online, the in-store displays I’ve seen usually offer around 30), but it can also be mixed to create your own shades. 
Queen Dinah didn’t care for me taking pictures of anything but her.
Cotton can be dyed in a bucket of lukewarm water (see Dharma Trading for instructions regarding the dying of cellulose fibers like cotton, rayon, bamboo, etc.).
But wool has to be simmered. And if you’ve ever accidentally thrown a wool sweater in the washing machine you may know that carelessness with wool and water = felt. Wool doesn’t like change. It has to be gently eased into temperature change, and it has to stirred with care. Friction = felt. 
The only decent instructions I could find are here. I followed them pretty strictly, so I won’t bother reiterating them. The only I didn’t use was Synthrapol, the special detergent that they recommend. I used what I had in the house and it worked out just fine.

I mixed the Ice Blue and Bright Green pictured above in hopes of achieving a pale mint hue, which was admittedly only marginally successful. As it turns out, there is a reason that people who really care do preliminary color tests. But I’m just one girl with one sweater, and I couldn’t be bothered. I added a bit too much of the green and my sweater turned more spring than mint. Perhaps someday I’ll redye it (it is a bit of a sore thumb within the color palette of my wardrobe), but for now my Zora will remain her cheerful spring green, and I’ll admit it’s growing on me.
The next imperative step is blocking. Blocking should be done with any hand knit sweater whether you dye it or not, but once your sweater is wet you cannot escape it. Blocking is a tool with which you can perfect your finished sweater. Smooth out your lumps, even out your sleeve lengths, whatever it is. But wet wool is delicate and you can also botch it pretty easily. 
1. Hand wash your sweater in lukewarm water, avoiding friction as much as possible. Gently squeeze as much water out of your sweater as you can, but DON’T WRING IT.
2. Put down a towel wherever you have the space and carry your balled-up sweater to it. 
3. Lay your sweater on the towel. Don’t hold it up to admire your beautiful work; wet wool is like a slinky! Ribbing especially is difficult to smush back into its original elasticity after you accidentally stretch it out.
4. Spread your sweater on the towel carefully arranging it to the proper proportions and measurements, patting it into place and bunching up any ribbing you want to remain elastic.
5. If your sweater is still pretty wet roll up your towel with the sweater inside and squeeze out as much excess water as possible. 
6. Unroll, replace the towel with a new, dry one and repeat Step 4.
7. Allow your sweater to dry completely.
8. Wear it and look fabulous!



R.I.P. Good Vibes

7 Mar
Huffy “Good Vibrations” Beach Cruiser was pronounced dead at 2:17PM on Monday, March 5, 2012. Good Vibrations suffered severe trauma to the frame as a result of repeated abuse and neglect. A pothole was the proverbial “straw that broke the camel’s back.” Good Vibrations was survived by owner, Melody Litwin. Good Vibrations and Melody enjoyed five and a half happy years together. “I knew she was getting tired in her old age, but I never expected her to go so soon and so suddenly,” mourned Ms. Litwin. “Good Vibrations was always there for me ever since fate brought us together, shortly after my move to Brooklyn. She showed me all the wonderful things New York City has to offer, she always supported my in my endeavors, and she never abandoned me; good times and bad, sun and rain. She will be sorely missed.”
Though Ms. Litwin continues to mourn the loss of beloved friend and bike, Good Vibrations, she also joyously welcomes newcomer CyclePro “Sylvie” Crosstown into her home and heart.

Welcome Sylvie, and best of luck to you in your future together!

Knitting for Seasons Past

3 Mar
So here’s the thing about knitting: it takes a lot of time. 
When I start knitting something in the fall, I can never seem to finish it before spring. I have yet to truly learn this lesson, but I hear tale of wise old knitters who start their winter knits in June, so that by November they are cuddled up in fine new sweaters and hats and blankets. But this is a blog about me and my projects. And I am neither old nor wise; so I give you my lovely new winter headband just in time for spring (the sweater is still in the works; don’t hold your breath).
You can make any stitch pattern into a cozy headpiece, so feel free to substitute any stitch pattern of your choosing. Anyone who is interested in designing their own patterns should invest in a stitch dictionary (I use Reader’s Digest’s The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches).
Here’s my pattern:
(If you need help reading knitting patterns, Knitting Help is a great source.)
What You’ll Need
Worsted weight wool
Size 6 needles
Cable needle
Stitch markers
Darning needle
CO 32 sts. Sl first st and k last st of every row (do not include these first and last sts when counting sts)
P6, pm, p3, pm, p12, pm, p to end.
RS: k1, work 4 sts in seed st, k1, p3, k12, p3, k1, work 4 sts in seed st, k1.
WS: sl1, work 4 sts in seed st, sl1, k3, p12, k3, sl1, work 4 sts, in seed st, k1
Repeat these two rows, cabling center 12 sts (see below) until headband reaches desired length. BO.
(Note: Seed st is essentially a checkerboard of knits and purls, knit on top of your purls, and purl on top of your knits and you have seed st.)
12-Stitch Plait (from Reader’s Digest’s The Ultimate Sourcebook of Knitting and Crochet Stitches)
1st row (RS): knit
2nd row and every alt row: purl
3rd row: C8F, k4
5th and 7th rows: knit
9th row: K4, C8B
11th row: knit
12th row: purl
Rep these 12 rows.
(Note: C8F means you are reversing the position of 8 sts, cabling to the front. So the first 4 sts are swapping position with the following 4, traveling in the front. Place the first 4 sts on a cable needle, and hold the cable needle out of the way towards the front while you k the second 4 sts. Replace your sts on the needle, off the cable needle and k them. C8B is the same, only holding the sts on the cable needle to the back of your work.)
CO 10 sts.
1st row (RS): sl1, k1, work in seed st to last 2 sts, k2.
2nd row: sl2, work in seed st to last 2 sts, sl 1, k1.
Repeat these 2 rows until piece measures 4″. BO.
Using leftover yarn and a darning needle, sew together the ends of your main headband piece. Weave in any loose ends. Scrunch up your headband at the seam and wrap the tie piece around the seam. Sew together the ends of the tie and weave in any loose ends.
And your warm and toasty, just in time for the equinox!