Monday, December 31, 2007

A Post From the Road

For a little over a week now, I've been on vacation driving cross-country. While I was in Fort Smith, Arkansas, I happened to visit a lovely little yarn shop, and I thought I'd post about it.

It's called Stringtown Yarns, and is located in the historic downtown area in a beautiful brick storefront. Stringtime has only been open since June, so it's still getting up and running, with the owner getting a feel for the market, the landlord making the downstairs area usable for workshops, and inventory being bought when possible. Even though the store's selection is far from vast, the owner seems to make a point of having a little of everything in a good selection of colors. She also plans to sell dyeing, felting, and spinning supplies, and has started carrying a little in those areas.

Of course, the important part is the sale section. The owner is currently closing out a few Rowan Yarns, along with a few other things, and has marked them down by 60%!

I had a wonderful time visiting Stringtime and chatting with the owner, and I hope this post eventually leads someone else to share that experience.

Happy New Year!

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

Pixie Slipper -- or the slam dunk

And speaking of gifts and last minutes, here is an idea for a little bootie that you can work in a lot of different ways. It works great in knitting (just plain old garter stitch, knit every row). I have done it a lot in crochet, too, using single crochet in the back loop only.

Basically, you make a square, but don't cut the yarn when you're done. To make the square easier to stitch together, knit as many ridges (on one side) as there are stitches. If you crochet, single crochet (in the back loop only) as many rows as you have stitches. The gauge will work out.

Then, fold the square so it is a triangle, so the yarn is hanging down at one end of the fold.

From that corner, stitch two folded sides together -- that is the sole of the bootie. Then turn the corner and stitch about a third or halfway up the other side. The point where the crochet hook goes through the edge in the photo is about how far up to stitch. Now fasten off and tuck in the loose ends.

Fold down the top flap that didn't get stitched, and you've got a cool goofy Pixie Bootie.

If you stitch tightly, it makes more of a slipper and doesn't stretch much. This is good with very sensible sturdy yarns.

If you stitch loosely, it is really stretchy and is more of a bedsock, for those of us with cold feet. This is nice for soft cozy yarns, even chenille (which was never made for the ages)

About sizing: Everyone is different, but here is a general guideline of how many stitches to start with, whether you knit or crochet:

3 sts/inch
4 sts/inch
5 sts/inch
6 sts/inch
3” square – ornament, good for holding little gifts, too
5” square – baby bootie
7” square – kid size
9” square – lady’s medium
11” square – large

(Thank you to Susie in Phx for the editing suggestion - I didn't know how to include a table when this post first published.)

It is always safer to make it a bit bigger than not big enough. If it turns out that the square is a tad too small, consider single crocheting around the square one time to add just a bit more before stitching the seams.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Handmade Gifts

If you are like me (and most needleworkers I know are), you probably enjoy planning and making gifts for your friends and family. In fact, many new knitters I have met over the years have listed "making gifts" as a goal. However, the successful handmade gift (one the recipient actually likes) takes much more consideration and planning and currently unusual ideas about etiquette to be successful. This is largely because more effort, more good wishes, more personal tastes, and often more money are on the line with handmade gifts than with store bought ones. Moreover, the gift is a demonstration of a personal skill to someone who matters, so it's a little like stage fright,too.

If the gift is something to be worn, one must consider the size of the garment. Is it possible to find out the recipient's measurements without spilling the beans? Or does gift giving need to involve surprises? Do they have fiber sensitivities or preferences? If one is using a natural or delicate fiber, washing is also a concern. If the gift goes to a child, what will his parents do with the gift when it is no longer useful to the child? What will the recipient do if they don't like it? What do you want the recipient to do if they don't like it?

In some families, handmade gifts are unspoken cues that the giver lacks the funds to buy "real" presents. In others, such gifts will be so treasured that even a gift of dish rags will never be used. In others, they will be used until they are worn out. What reaction would you want?

In groups that value the giving of handmade gifts, handmade gifts may be given on a regular basis. What are the chances of making the same thing that someone else is making?

Moreover, if you make gifts every year, are you repeating yourself? You don't want to burden someone with more of something they need given in such a way that they can't do anything about it. And are you making gifts because you know you can make something the recipient will really like, or just for the sake of making gifts? Personally, I would rather receive a gift card to just about anywhere, than be given a set of holiday specific remote control cozies. Some people probably would love such a gift, but everyone has something that they would not find useful. If you can't think of something to make for someone, go ahead and buy. If nothing else, food is often a safe option.

All of these are important questions to ask before you pick up your hook or needles, and the answers depend on the individual needleworker and recipients, but they are very important to consider.

Saturday, December 1, 2007

Why does my knitting curl?

This is a common question among new knitters who have just learned stockinette stitch (knit one row, purl the next). It is the nature of the knitted stitch.

Let us consider the stitch. Remember that a purl stitch is just the wrong side of a knit stitch. A knitted stitch is made of one loop of yarn that has been drawn through the one below it. On the knit side of the stitch, it looks like a "V", and on the back, it looks like a "-". On the front, the V (which includes about 2/3 the yarn involved in the stitch) has been pushed forward in the process of being drawn through the stitch below it. The - that is the back of the stitch (and about 1/3 of the yarn) is forced backwards when a stitch is pulled through it is the next row. In order for a knitted fabric to lie flat, there must be an approximately equal number of stitches being pushed in either direction by the fabric.

In other words, pattern stitches that have an equal number of knits and purls on either side will lie flat. For example, garter stitch has one row of V's followed by one row of -'s on either side. Seed Stitch alternates V's and -'s and off-sets them by one stitch in each successive row.

Some stitches lie flat by manipulating how the knitted fabric curls. Ribbed stitches alternate panels of stockinette stitch with reverse stockinette stitch. In this way, each rib will try to curl in its own direction. That is why ribbing stretches in an accordion-like manner.

Other stitches curl even though they look as though they should not. Usually, these stitches involve slipped stitches in certain rows, and are called slip-stitch patterns. While many slip-stitch patterns have textures that suggest an equal number of knits and purls, they almost always say "purl all wrong side rows" in their instructions.

Some stitches lie flat when they ought not to, even! Most lace patterns are primarily knitted on the right side and purled on the wrong side. However, the more yarn overs there are in the pattern, the more the fabric will lie flat. This is because of the looseness of the yarn over. Even stockinette stitch will lie flat in a loose enough gauge.

My favorite stitch dictionaries are the Barbara Walker Treasury and her Second Treasury. In both, she divides stitches according to type, including knit and purl patterns, slip stitch patterns,yarn over patterns, and lace patterns. When stitches are reversible or look interesting on both sides, Ms. Walker usually makes a note of it.