Saturday, August 30, 2008

Mind wandering

If life is like a giant buffet, where you can choose from the offerings - seductive foods that you know will lead to your eventual ill health or indigestion or nourishing foods that give you strength, don't most of us sample some of each? Not too much of the bad, but we don't want to do without them either.

So if we make our choices, some of which further the work of Satan, but some further the work of God, but we don't want to miss out on the seductiveness of what Satan has to offer completely, aren't we in the middle? Aren't most of us?

Some few choose only God's offering - Francis of Assisi, Elder Porphyrios, St. Antony the Desert Father. I guess some choose mostly the other way too - the notable villains of our history. I do wonder what happens to those of us in the middle.

I had a dream once that I was in a Road Runner cartoon and I fell off the cliff, hit the bottom, and died. I went to Heaven, but it wasn't what I expected. I had to live in a humble room with my mother. There was a TV but only wholesome shows - no action, violence, or even villains. The food was all wholesome - fruit and bread, I think. Not even meat. No oreo cookies, ever again. I have to say I was disappointed. When I awoke, the dream stayed with me, and this was at least 15 years ago. I wonder sometimes, if heaven doesn't suit me, what does that mean about me? Am I too worldly?

Then the major kicker: "What if we all go to the same place, but for some it's Heaven for some it's Hell?"

Saturday, August 23, 2008

Momma T sweater

There are a lot of charities that are asking for hand knit wool sweaters in higher gauge, durable wool; sending them to places from Mongolia to Afghanistan to reservations in the U.S. - places where it gets cold, the people have little or no heat in their homes, and they can't afford warm coats. I have a wool sweater I made for myself out of this same yarn that I practically LIVE in all winter - it doesn't overheat you indoors but is warm enough for going out in the cold as well, so I know the power of a good sweater!

When knitting for charities like Warm Woolies, Knit for Kids or Afghans for Afghans (yes, they're asking for sweaters now!), you want to put durable over almost everything else. This is a piece of clothing that will get used, passed on, and used some more, daily, and maybe even worn to bed. So pass over the soft yarns that would pill with that kind of use and get the sturdier but coarser yarns and the recipients will thank you. The old-fashioned wool can last for generations and look almost as good as new. My favorite sweater looks better now than when I knit it, because it's fully bloomed and has a fuzzy-ness to it that I love.

Here is a pattern, dedicated to Mother Teresa (Shane Claiborne called her "Momma T" and it stuck in my head) who really needs no introduction. I made it with two strands knit together of a DK weight yarn that I hand dyed. The gauge was 13 stitches = 4" on #10 needles. I used around 800 yards, probably less.

Most of the charities I saw this year were asking for a size 10 child's sweater. I guess that's a popular size; or maybe the smaller ones are faster to knit so they get more of them.

The directions to dye the wool are below (or click here). This makes a very nice, colorful sweater. You don't need to do it in a rainbow, different shades of a few colors would work well too.

To begin, cast on 43 stitches. Do 6 rows of k2, p2 ribbing (or whatever kind of ribbing you like). After that, do stockinette, making a stitch by knitting in both sides of the stitch on each end of the row on alternating 6th and 8th rows for a gentle increase up the sides.

The pattern for the colors I used was 10 rows using both skeins of the same color, then 4 rows of one strand the color I was just using and 1 strand of the next color (for instance, between the green and the blue I'd use a strand of green and a strand of blue for 4 rows). The body was 14" wide by 18" high. It took me 80 rows, so I finished on the 10th row of the yellow (last color). When you get to the top, count your stitches. The neck opening should be 4", or 13 stitches. Subtract 13 from your total and divide the remainder by 2 - bind off that many stitches on each side, putting the middle 13 on a stitch holder (if you had an odd number of stitches left after you subtracted the 13, leave 14 in the center.)

Knit same as for back but when you get about 3" from the top make a neck opening. Count the stitches on your needles and subtract 5 from the total. Divide the remainder by 2 (if it was an odd number subtract 6 from the total). Add the 5(6) back to the number you got (if you have 75, subtract 5 to get 70, half of that is 35, add the 5 back and you have 40). Knit that many stitches then transfer the rest to a stitch holder (I use a contrasting yarn for a stitch holder and the darning needle to transfer the stitches on, 3-4 at a time). From now on, do the increases on the shoulder side, and on the neck side alternate knit and purl like a rib stitch the last 4 stitches so it doesn't curl. When you get to the top, bind off as many as you did for the back on a side and put the rest on a stitch holder.

Then pick up the ones from the other side of the front from your stitch holder, plus 5(6) from the neck edge from the same row (from the front, pick up one side of each loop; or from the back, pick up the tops of the stitches, your choice). Starting at the shoulder and leaving a tail of yarn, knit two rows like the other side. When you get back where you started you can tie the loose end of yarn off to the working yarn and then continue to the top.

Sew the front to the back and transfer all the neck stitches to a circular needle. Knit one row, making stitches every 3rd stitch (unless it is at the shoulder seam) by picking up a stitch from under the working stitch and knitting one into that (lifted increase if you want to look it up). Do 4 more rows and bind off loosly.

Cast on 20 stitches. Do 4 rows of k2, p2 ribbing then stockinette stitch. The color pattern for the sleeves is 8 rows of both strands the same color, with 3 rows of one strand each color for the transition. Every 4th row, increase at each end of the row by knitting in both sides of the stitch. They should wind up about 14" long by 13" wide at the top and about 5" wide at the cuff. (They are extra long in case the child doesn't have mittens!)

To assemble, find the center of the top of the sleeve. Tie or pin it to the center seam of the shoulder with right sides together. Stitch one side of the sleeve on. See where on the strip pattern it ends and start the other side at the same place on the stripe on the other side of the sweater and sew that side on. When the sleeves are on, sew up the sides, from the cuff of the sleeve to the bottom of the sweater. (Hand)Wash and block and see your beautiful results!

Thursday, August 21, 2008

Dying wool

If you've read this, you know I love wool yarn. Another cool thing about wool yarn is that it is easy to dye using food colorings! I first heard of this thanks to the book "Stitch 'n' Bitch" where they have the pattern for the Kool-Aid dyed sweater. I googled it and found a whole world of hand-dying using edibles! Then someone told me you can use the food colorings sold for cake icing as well so I just had to try that!

[I wasn't going to put anything but shawls on this blog, but this pattern is coming together unnaturally well, almost like I'm getting a little help from a Good Shepherd, so I thought it would be a good chance to highlight some of the other charitable knitting groups out there in case you get tired of knitting shawls (or the chest of shawls gets full, like at my church at the moment!). The pattern to make a child's sweater using two strands of hand-dyed DK wool will come next, but this entry will be on how to dye wool.]

My favorite method of dying wool is using Kool-Aid, because you get bright, vivid colors and it's very easy. Plus, the wool smells fruity for a long time afterward!

You can over-dye pretty much any animal fibers with these methods. My favorite yarn for dying is the inexpensive wool yarn I get on ebay on cones. It doesn't have to be white but should be very pale, and browns or greys work the best unless you're wanting to use the color it comes in (like pink could be dyed shades of blue, red, or yellow to get purples, darker red, or salmon/orange). I find a light tan color is completely hidden under dyes, just the colors are a little muted instead of vivid (but some do come out vivid, too!) I've successfully dyed a medium brown as well, to red, green, and blue and it turned out very well - you'd never guess it had started out as brown.

The sweater I'll give the instructions for in the next entry uses stranding, so I did two hanks of each color. This turns out really nice, especially when they are a little different shade from each other - it gives nice depth, and when there are lighter/darker patches in the hanks from our inexperienced dye-jobs, that works to our advantage to give the stockinette some texture.

The first step is to get the yarn into long, loose hanks so the dye gets access to al the strands. I've used two methods of making up for my lack of a swift so far, one is wrapping the yarn around the open cabinet doors in the kitchen. The other is to wrap it around cardboard boxes. Whatever you use, there will be a lot of squeezing force after awhile, so it has to be strong. Doing each hank a standard number of wraps, like 100 worked well for me, but you could just "eyeball it" as well. Once you've gotten your hank wrapped, you'll want to slide it off of whatever you used and use the two loose ends to loosely tie around the hank. Cut a piece of yarn or use a scrap of yarn to loosely tie around the other end as well. This helps prevent your yarn getting tangled during the washing, dying, squeezing, etc.

The cone yarn comes with a coating of lubricants or something, so the next step will get that off and show you how fuzzy the yarn really is (off the cone it often seems like bailing twine!) So you fill a bucket or dishpan with warm soapy water and soak the yarn.

Next get a medium-sized cooking pot and fill it half-way with water. Add a splash of vinegar and your dye and bring it to a boil. If you're using Kool-Aid, 1-3 packets per hank is what I do. The more you add the more vivid the color. You could experiment and try one hank with just one, and one with three. Since you're stranding, it won't hurt anything. If you're using icing dye, I added about 1/8 to 1/4 tsp per hank. It's ok to mix colors. I only had the primary colors so I mixed red and blue to get purple, yellow and red for orange, etc.

Once it's boiling, squeeze, rinse, and squeeze a hank of yarn and carefully add it to the pot, rearranging it a few times so all of it gets to the dye. If you're using Kool-Aid, the water will quickly become clear or milky. That means all the dye has been absorbed. With the icing dye, that didn't happen but the yarn seemed to absorb all it wanted within 5 minutes. If you smell a burning smell, take the pot off the burner, it could be the yarn on the bottom of the pot getting singed.

When the yarn has soaked up as much of the dye as it wants, take pot and yarn to the sink (where there is NO other yarn because it will make spots on it!) and lift the yarn out of the pot and let it drain for a bit, then I hang it over the faucet to let it cool enough to touch. While I'm waiting, I get the next pot of dye ready. I don't put in fresh water each time, but you need to when you move from one color to a different primary color. You need to add a little bit more vinegar and top off the water from time to time, and add more dye, of course.

Once you can touch the yarn you've just dyed, rinse it well in warm tap water, squeeze it well, and hang it to dry. I like to dry it in the sun outside because that is pretty fast. You can hang it over a broom handle, on a clothes line, over the branches of a tree (but then it might not be sunny!), use your creativity.

The last time I did this, there was no mess to clean up, other than the pot and spoon I used. Not too messy! :)

Yes this is a lot of work, but it is FUN! And it's a great way to recycle ugly or unwanted yarn to fabulous yarn!

Tuesday, August 5, 2008

To Knit the Annie Payson Shawl

I used Mode Dea Silk 'N Wool blend on #10's. Each square took slightly less than one skein, which contained 154 yards, so the three squares took 3 skeins - around 450 yards, for an 18" X 4.5' shawl.

To find out about Annie Payson Call, to whom this shawl is dedicated, see the previous entry.

I knit the three squares separately then sewed them together. I have a thing about not wanting the crosses to be upside down. If you really hate piecing tho you can just start at the end and knit to the other in one long shawl. I'm sure it will look good that way too.

To begin, cast on 59 stitches. Knit a row, purl a row and you're ready for the pattern. I've just charted it because it's so straight forward. But do one stitch at the beginning and end of each row, knit on the knit side and purl on the purl side.

I did the pattern like this - first repetition: cross, tulip, cross; second repetition: tulip, cross, tulip; third repetition: cross, tulip, cross. That made a square. If you want to continue, just keep staggering them. I guess this would make a nice afghan too if a group wanted to get each person to contribute a square.

Click on the picture to see it larger.

It's fun to block each square as you finish it, to see what it's going to look like. In case you've never blocked lace before, here's a handy guide from Subversive Knitting. I like to pin the lace out on the guest bed, on the vellux blanket because it doesn't soak up any moisture from the damp yarn. Then I put the ceiling fan on and ask the kids not to jump on the bed today. :)

Saturday, August 2, 2008

New shawl coming - Annie Payson Shawl!

Annie Payson Call was a writer for Ladies' Home Journal in the 1920's who wrote some remarkable pieces that are still inspirational today. Not much is known about her but you can get a glimpse of her wonderful spirit through her writings. Many of them are available for free at the Soil and Health Library.

She teaches how to change oneself to bring peace to the family and then to the world with timeless and gentle advice that is especially relevant (and needed) today.