Wednesday, February 27, 2008

Xylem V-neck Sweater

UPDATE: Xylem is now available in all sizes (XS-XXXL) on my Ravelry page for $2.95.

I'm a bit of a science nerd, and I've recently been attracted to microscopic images. This sweater was inspired by images of xylem, which are part of vascular plants' circulatory systems (see below).

Xylem is knit top-down. After casting on, you first knit back and forth, increasing for the sleeves and the v-neck, and then join and continue in the round. While I've used a garter stitch pattern on the yoke and body, you could also choose to save the garter ridge pattern for the bust area if you'd rather emphasize that.
I chose to finish the sweater with garter stitch rows around the sleeves, hem, and neckline.

This sweater takes 5 skeins of Noro Kureyon (or 550 yards) on size 7 needles.

Check out Claire's Batiks

My friend and former student Claire has crafted some amazing batiks on the theme of climate change. They've been on display at the university here, and she has created a web site where they can be viewed together. I highly recommend checking them out.

Here's a few samples.

Saturday, February 23, 2008

NELLA Cropped Cardigan

[update 13 Mar. 10]

Nella is available in many sizes, from XS through 2XL, for $6.


Nella was inspired by dresses of the 1930s, with their swooping necklines, wide sleeves, and front ties. The Noro Kureyon accentuates the lines of the piece.

I've named it after Nella Larsen, a fabulous author of the Harlen Renaissance. Check out the style of these ladies:

Nella knit in one pieces from the top-down, then the sleeves are picked up and added, again from the top down, on two circulars.

Next, the entire edge of the piece is picked up and a garter-stitch trim applied.

At the neckline, the garter-stitch trim is applied from the top edge, working up, decreasing and shaping. Lastly, the i-cord and applied i-cord are applied, creating the tie and the neckline edging.

Interested in making Nella?

Buy the pattern for $6.00, sizes XS through 2XL.

Thursday, February 21, 2008

Fiber Facts: The Forgotten Fiber Lanital (aka Aralac)

It is often said that necessity is the mother of invention. During World War II, wool was in short supply, in part because it was required to make military uniforms. Scientists in Italy and the United States searched for substitutes, including soy and milk, while in Japan and Germany scientists tried fish protein. For a while wool made from milk became an alternative to wool, cotton, and silk. The resultant fiber, called lanital in italy and aralac in the United States, was made in the following manner, according to a 1937 article in Time magazine:
Having practically the same chemical composition as wool, it is made by mixing acid with skim milk. This extracts the casein, which looks like pot cheese. Evaporated to crystals, it is pulverized and dissolved into a molasses consistency, then forced through spinnerets like macaroni, passed through a hardening chemical bath, cut into fibres of any desired length. From 100 pounds of skim milk come 3.7 pounds of casein which converts to the same weight of lanital.* Readily dyed, it can be distinguished from wool only by experts, is mothproof.
Aralac was said to be soft and serviceable, but customers complained that garments made from milk fiber smelled like sour milk when wet! Apparently, as the above image suggests, sweaters made from aralac also had the unfortunate effect of making your boobs look droopy. After the war, aralac production ceased as wool and cotton shortages abated. This probably explains why both sweaters and pointy, cone-shaped bras came into fashion in the 1950s.

*Images are from "Fabrics of the Future" by Robert D. Potter, The Science News-letter, February 7, 1940.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Quant FO and New Yarns

I plied and dyed a bunch of wool and alpaca--the yarn I started spinning in an earlier post. Mostly I'm experimenting with color--Kool-Aid and food coloring. I'm scared of non-edible dyes. And I'm having the most fun making up names.

Here's PryalSpun 50-50, color "Bordello." I'm thinking sexy armwarmers for this:

Color "Fireworks":

Color "Easter Egg" that has now been made into Quant:

Another view, on my head:

Thursday, February 14, 2008

Spinny Windy Yarny Goodness

Here's my first attempt at spinning!

Step 1: Unwound two sweaters--one a kind of mulberry tweedy yarn (below), another a burnt orange (not shown).

Step 2: Spin together. The burnt orange brightened up the mulberry yarn, which was a bit dull...

Step 3: Soaked yarn in hot water.

Step 4: After drying, the yarn looked kind of muddy and I couldn't think of anything I would make in that color, so I dyed it with Black Cherry Koolaid. The result is a nice crimson color. I'm not sure if you can tell from the picture, but you can still see some of the tweedy-ness show through... My camera didn't want to cooperate today so I'll try to post a better picture later.

Wednesday, February 13, 2008

Kitschy Knits

Ah, the 70s. When else could you get away with a fringed, crocheted, gawd-awful hideous vest like this one? I found this and the rest of these pics in a 1973 craft and design book at the local thrift shop. For some reason I can't resist these kinds of books, even though (or maybe because) most of the stuff in them is atrocious.

I don't know if you can tell, but the entire riding habit pictured above is knitted. They show you how to make the plaid pattern and everything. The dog looks a little wary, doesn't he?

In the 1970s, kids' moms still made a lot of their clothes, and kids were disciplined a lot more then. So if you were being punished, you might have had to wear a sweater like this one with your plaid bell bottom pants.

Not all the stuff in this book is hideous though. I actually kind of found these guys endearing:

And who wouldn't want this kitty to hold their knitting stuff?

Monday, February 11, 2008

Spinning - The Story of my Dangerous New Addiction

Sunday, 10:30am. At my local knitting circle that I went to for the first time on a lark I learned about spinning on a hand spindle. I learned that they're not all called "drop spindles"-- some are "high whorl" and some are "low whorl." Who knew? Not me.

2:00pm. After some research, I learned that I would prefer the high whorl kind. So then I looked on the internet for how to make one. I knew I had some bamboo straight needles at home that I'll never use again, so I went straight from the knitting circle to Home Depot.

3:00pm. Compiled Materials.

3:05pm. (Seriously). High whorl spindle assembled. (In a later post, I will give detailed directions for how I did this. I made up my own design using materials I had on hand. It was stupid easy.)

3:06pm. Pulled out balls of yarn I'd recycled from two thrift-store sweaters, watched some demo videos on YouTube (search "ply spindle" keywords) and spun some yarn while watching the movie "Stand By Me" on TiVo.

(Ace: "What are you gonna do, shoot us all?" Gordie: "No Ace, I'm just going to shoot you.")

4:00pm. Read article on dying wool with food coloring, then got out the food coloring I had on hand and a small bottle of vinegar and heated up some water. Dyed first skein of wool. Meanwhile, still spinning.

8:00pm. Spun four 25oz-ish skeins of yarn, set in hot water, dyed, and hung up to dry.

I'm using the yarn to make Quant.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

Baby Washcloths!

I have two baby showers to attend today so I decided to whip up these quick washcloths for gifts.
I used Sugar 'n Cream yarn (about half a skein for each, and US size 7 needles).

I made the following patterns:

1) Bobbles the Sheep
I had never made bobbles before so this was a fun way to learn how--I used two stitches for mine (kfb, turn and purl those stitches, turn and knit, then slip the first stitch over the second to form the bobble).

2) Duck cloth

3) Reverse stockinette chevrons

This is from the stitch dictionary in Vogue Knitting: The Ultimate Knitting Book. So the pattern is as follows:Cast on 35 stitches.
Rows 1-3: Knit
Row 4: (RS) K5, *p1, k5; rep from * to end.
Row 5: K1, *p3, k3; rep from *, end last rep k1.
Row 6: P2, *k1, p2; rep from * to end.
Row 7: P1, *k3, p3; rep from *, end last rep p1.
Row 8: K2, *p1, k5; rep from *, end last rep k2.
Row 9: Purl
Repeat rows 4-9 8 times.
Knit 3 rows. Bind off. Weave in ends.

#4: Sugar Cubes
This one is based on a stitch from Vogue Knitting's Stitchionary Volume One (Knit & Purl). The pattern is as follows:

Cast on 41 stitches.
Knit three rows, then start pattern as follows:
Rows 1 and 5 (RS): Knit.
Rows, 2, 4, 6, and 8: K the knit sts and p the purl sts.
Row 3: K1, *p2, k6; rep from * to end.
Row 7: K5, *p2, k6; rep from * to last 4 sts, end p2, k2.
Repeat rows 1-8 five times.
Knit three rows. Bind off. Weave in ends.

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Fiber Facts: The physics of knots... or, why your yarn gets tangled

My mother is a great seamstress and a very crafty lady, and I learned to sew things as a child as part of our crafting. (The first thing I remember making, probably at the age of 5 or so, was a stuffed Grover head made out of old bits of leather my mom had scavenged from someplace--just a round head with no body.) My mom had a saying in German: "Langes Fädchen, faules Mädchen." Loosely translated, this means "Long thread, lazy girl." I swear she said this every single time I attempted to sew something. This refers, of course, to my tendency to use a superlong piece of thread so I could avoid tying off, threading the needle, etc. as much as possible. The problem with a long thread, though, is that it gets tangled and knotted up easily and ends up being just as much a pain in the ass as having to thread another needle. We all know my mom was right--but now scientists have explained why.

Researchers are interested in knots primarily because they hope to understand similar processes at a molecular level--apparently your DNA can get tangled up just like your yarn. But their ideas can tell us something about why we sometimes spend so much time detangling yarn that seems to form knots all by itself.

In a recent issue of the Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, Dorian Rymer and Douglas Smith explain that two main factors determine the degree of "knottiness" in a string--agitation and string length. Rymer and Smith tested this theory by dropping a string in a box, rotating and tumbling the box, and then examining the string and the types of knots that were formed. Then, they classified several different types of spontaneous knots (shown below):

(Apparently scientists are interested in knots in part because they look pretty--check out the images on The KnotPlot Site, for instance. )

The authors conclude the longer the string, and the more it is agitated, the more knots you will get. After a certain length, though, the knottiness factor levels off. The scientists also determined that it is the action of the free end of string that does the knotting, mostly by a kind of braiding motion that happens when the string is coiled (as in a skein of yarn, for instance). Unfortunately, they don't offer many tips for un-knotting string. Apparently modern science hasn't gotten that far yet. So the moral of the story is to keep your yarn short--just like my mom said.