Knitting as music recorder

You’ve seen those old wax cylinders, I guess they are the old Edison records, right? Those amazingly fragile tubes that somehow captured the sound? I never understood the mechanism that made them. Yet, I cannot help but think of them when I knit at a concert. Isn’t my tube, my sock, in this case, a recorder too? Every time I wear this sock, I will think of the concert and the magic of that night when I saw Dylan.

See that little section there – can’t you here the “Just Like a Woman”?

It wasn’t my first Dylan concert, but it was especially juicy. About mid-way through, two owls, one after the other flew out from the band enclosure. The first was quite large and the crowd gasped and oohed. It seemed, I don’t know, significant, somehow.

And another luminary comes to our town this week.
Alden Amos gives a workshop for my guild on fiber prep. Isn’t he the Dylan of our spinning generation? And yet, I get to be up close and personal with both Alden and Stephenie Gaustad. What a delight she is, and I just can’t wait to see them both.

That is Alden at SOAR 2006 with the World's Largest Flyer.


Is Pattern just a Tool?

Is pattern just a tool, a delivery system tool? A tool to deliver color.

For me, it is the colors in Fair Isle sweaters that ring my bell. When I first noticed them, just like many, it was the eye-opening Starmore. I knew I was in trouble as I crossed the threshold [more ways than one] at the Tomato Factory in Lambertville, NJ. While selecting different colors for a pattern and I got the first three easy. Then I was up to 6 with no problem. But when I was up to my 19th color, I was a little flummoxed. Or do I mean entranced? The blends, oh, those blends….

So here I am, stuck in the back yard on my carder. I am fighting those raindrops over the last few days and I am trying to finish the orange blend. For the last set, I am hoping I have enough left over for an Alpaca Legs mix. I have some light cadmium red that would go great. Looks like matching socks to me.

Something about this mix is just taking forever to spin. It is so light. I spin and spin and spin and only have 3 bobbins. Plying takes a long time too. I get a huge bobbin of 3 ply sport – fingering weight yarn. All excited I weight several batches. How can all that yarn weigh just 5 oz? The merino is very light and spongy but tightly plied. Now I will have to pull out my yardage counter and see just how big this is.

Gee, the merino has been fun, even if it is a sinkhole of time. Gotta be just me, I think. Logy with the heat and humidity? Playing with 4-way blends reminds me of the nights when I used to sit down with some Jamieson & Smith heathers and try to figure the percentage by taking apart a 3 in piece of yarn. All could be lost with a quick pass of a cat’s tail. I was mesmerized by the colors and just wanted to get a blend that was similar. I hoped for the relative percentage and base colors. I didn’t chart them all, but I do have about 20 of them. Sometimes, in carding the leftover superwash, I unwittingly match a color on my color card that I have admired. I would have to dig in the garage to come up with my list of all of them now, but I do have a couple that I use regularly. Do you all have a favorite Shetland color blend? I mean can you pick one, just one on the charts?

Mind you, all this work, this hair-brained scheme, was due to my love of the yarn. So when I try to make a blend like it now, it is as an homage more than an exact copy. Kind of like listening to a song you used to listen to in your youth. A remembrance, a quote to a past joy. I love making my own blends too. You are looking at one now.

Which brings us right back to pattern as a delivery tool for color. Pattern soothes our eyes and brain. Fine pattern, like the dots on your TV can deliver data, images, movement. But on sweater scale, is pattern a delivery system for the joyful Shetland colors. Wasn’t your enchantment of Fair Isle sweaters due to the soft and gentle blending of a bazillion shades so close you have to really search for the transition? Would you like the sweaters as much if they were bright primary colors? Or rich and complex blends of two, three, four, five, maybe more colors.

So many places for your eyes to rest.
Get some colors at Elemental Affects.


How Geeky is that?

This week when the waiting room attendant announced an hour delay, most people moaned. Being a knitter, I was delighted. I could put away my ‘stupid’ knitting and pull out a more complex project. [One should always carry at least two projects in case of delays.] I grabbed my lace, pulled out my Palm for my chart and started knitting away. At that point a woman across from me said to her husband, “How geeky is that?”. Wow, I was thrilled. Not only was she not commenting on my collection of projects, or the fact that I was knitting, but she was talking about my tools. I took it as a compliment, suspecting that is was Not how she meant the comment.

What geeky tools do you carry in your bag? I love the Palm for simple charts. I use Documents to Go and an Excel file so I can just mark off the rows. Usually, I leave a column in front of the directions to mark a number to show my place in the pattern. Sometimes it is 1’s and 0’s and others it is the actual repeat. It can work for charts or words. The biggest limitation is that it is best for smaller patterns, not something that is a 200 column lace, for example.

Find the chart here.

It always has a calculator and that is nice. And of course, I keep a database of my yarn needs and knitting needles. The Palm in my knitting bag is an older used one that I picked up for $5 on eBay, a Zire 31. It also has the ability to play mp3s, so I usually have a book on tape and some music in there too. Now, while this is older technology, it is geeky for knitting. Apparently.

When I got to the top of the sock, I had a mental block and couldn’t remember how to start the sewn bind-off. Wouldn’t the woman across from me be appalled to see that I was playing the video of Lucy Neatby’s sock techniques? I own the video, so I translated it to my phone. I never subscribe to any of my phone company’s music or video services – why bother. They aren’t ever going to have the things I want to carry around with me. Knitting videos are a nice reference to have with me at all times for little weight.

I have to admit, I purchase my technology with knitting in mind and often at a serious discount. The phone was a free upgrade with my plan. Palms are cheap if you don’t want all the newest features. Whether you use one in real life or not, it is nice to have one for knitting. So use old tech to be geeky in your craft. It makes life so easy. Doesn’t everyone do this?


Return of the Giant Rolags

Fiber preparation, more so than spinning, is frequently done in a vacuum. Since we work by ourselves, odd habits can develop unchecked that you don’t even recognize until you do them in a group setting and get those curious looks from your fellow workers.

See how the firm cardboard tube helps me to clean almost all the fiber from the drum?

Case in point: When drawing off your batts, do you a) lay them flat and pull into strips, b) lay them flat and pull across to make rolags, c) make giant rolags ro d)Batts? I only use prepared fiber.
Be honest here, I am counting.

The next question is DOES IT MATTER? Does the final yarn differ with the three methods and is one somehow wrong. Remember that any prep coming from a carder is essentially woolen, not worsted. Are there differing degrees of woolen-ness?

I am of the giant rolag camp, but I have never seen anyone else do this. How crazy am I, or is it lazy? My yarn is nice and even and I like it so I will probably continue with this method. I do think that fiber might have something to do with your choice, particularly fiber length. But I am not sure why I think that, perhaps it is just an instinct.

I am using superwash merino for this, incredibly clean and easy to card even on my Mark V. The fiber is already prepared so I am just color blending for this batch. Vote below and tell me what you think.

Color is also a strange thing. I got several pounds of a rather ugly 50/50 mix of navy and medium orange. The bag just sat there taunting me. I couldn’t picture what to blend it with to make this nasty mix nice. Sample time. I pulled out my trusty box of mixables and tried a few. I mixed it with pale yellow & green (fiberguy’s choice), red and Steeler yellow (my choice). The final ratio was 1 hot red, 2 Steeler Yellow, 8 of the nasty 50/50 mix. Now I have bucketloads of this wonderful orange heather. Yummy.

Of course, that worked so well that I am wondering what other crappy mix of colors did I buy and what can I mix them with. No good blend goes unpunished.


Curves Ahead

Do you brake during a curve or speed into a curve? Say when you are driving on an off-ramp. Physics and angular velocity/momentum tell us that we will have much better control of the vehicle if we speed up a hair during the curve – we will hug the road better. Knowing this and doing this are two different things, though, as I see many people brake at the peak of the curve.

Same thing goes for knitting. Do you pull an increase tight or ease up during your increase?

With Judy’s magic cast-on, I find something new is happening during my knitting.

I loosen up. And I speed up.

Now I’m a wicked loose knitter and often have to go down 2 sizes when working someone else’s pattern. Except when I do increases or decreases near the toe. So much is going on in these areas that to avoid gappy bits later, I knit my increases tightly. They remain tight on following rows which often causes a slight cursing as I hit that spot. Bring on
Judy’s magic cast-on and, lo, my fingers go all soft and want to hit the increase easy and quick. Sweet. This makes those toes go so fast. I get a deep knitterly joy. No gaps. These toes make me happy.

So, are you putting on the knitting brakes during the curves or giving it a little gas?