Wednesday, September 28, 2016

We Interrupt This Program...

The knitting continues, and eventually I will get around to telling the last of my tales from Cordova. I've been away from home a lot this summer and fall--not just Cordova--and I have a thing to show you from my travels. It's not knitting, but it's a bit fibery and important, and I think you'll find it moving, as I did.

I'm just back from a cruise in the Columbia River gorge, in the course of which we visited the Hanford Reach National Monument near Richland, Washington. There's a small visitor center there with museum exhibits about the local nature, the original people, and the place's history as a center for nuclear research, fuel production, and waste disposal.  It is the lesser known partner in the WWII Manhattan project with Los Alamos in New Mexico. The plutonium for the Hiroshima bomb was produced there.

A small round room in the visitor center is an exhibition of art works that relate to Hanford's nuclear past and present, and in the middle of the room was this:

At first glimpse, I thought it was a visual pun on a mushroom cloud. You can see, I'm sure, how that could have been my first thought. It's vaguely mushroom-shaped and definitely mushroom-colored. The square top is a little bit odd, but it's art, right?

It dominated the room from floor to ceiling, but information about it was hard to find. Close inspection showed that in addition to the Japanese writing, there was hair. Black hair that had to be there on purpose, and in fact was maybe the thread that sewed it together.

If you look carefully at the closeup, you can see the fine black stitches and odd bits of the hair.

Eventually I found the information plaque on the wall and discovered that it is a life-sized cloth sculpture of the bomb that destroyed Hiroshima, made by a descendant of a Hiroshima survivor using 1940s kimonos, her own hair, and the poetry of Matsuo Basho. Here's her full statement:

I was stunned. Here are a couple more pictures of the work:

And this one is a view of the inside taken through a hole:

I find the haphazard patchwork and worn holes in the cloth especially affecting. Ghosts of the real people who once inhabited the garments. Ghosts of the real people who once inhabited a city.

Friday, August 5, 2016

Fiber & Friends #4 Continued--My Fisher Lassie

If you haven't read the previous post about Fisher Lassie, you need to do it now. I'll wait right here till you're done.

Ok. So.  My own Fisher Lassie is made with Jo Sharp Classic DK Wool in a heathery shade called Ink. I picked the color (a navy blue with grey doing the heathering) because it looked so much like denim, not only a work clothes fabric, but one of my all-time favorites whether woven or knitted. (see weakness for Rowan and other denim cotton yarn)

Once I began knitting those first patterned sections, though, I had a brief freakout about the color choice. A gansey is all about texture patterns, and it was looking like a heathered field of moosh. Pattern submerged in the randomness of blended grey and navy.

Fortunately, when I backed away from the knitting, the texture was unmistakable. It was there! It is visible! But a new mental post-it note for my knitbrain. Absolutely solid colors are the best for textured patterns. I might not be so lucky the next time.

There was also another mental warning embedded here. When it's hard to see texture up close, it's hard to spot knitting errors in time for an easy fix. I had jolly well better get through the patterned upper sections before the summer light wanes, or I will be a crazy lady with a crappy looking sweater next spring. Once the armholes are joined and the texture finished, it's smooth stocking stitch sailing with the sleeves and the remainder of the body.

So here I am just before the Joining of the Armholes:

Armholes were joined, and carefully I made my way to the end of 5 pattern repeats. While spraining my arm patting myself on the back in congratulations, a Wonderful Idea sprang into my joyous knitbrain. Why not do the sleeves now? The entire armhole is waiting and ready. And by making the sleeves now, I can avoid my least favorite part of the knit-in-one-piece sweater. The part where the entire body is done and you have to do the sleeves by tossing this big hot pile of wool around and around in your lap, with associated tangling of needles and yarn.

So, Reader, that's exactly what I'm doing. Tossing a little bolero around and around instead of a full-grown sweater. Putting the main sweater body on spare yarn also enabled a try on of said bolero. Hm. Fit is as expected, but the end of pattern hits not quite at the bottom of the boobage. On the pattern model (refer to previous post) the ridge is somewhere midway between bust and waist. As the sleeves go round and round, I am contemplating doing an extra vertical pattern repeat so the ridge hits in a more flattering place.

Oh yeah, and I found just the right heathery denimy buttons already--See?

Wish I could get the photo to show how well buttons and yarn match. You'll just have to take my word for it.  Navy is fickle to photo.

So round and round and round we go, and where the pattern's gonna stop, nobody yet knows!

Tuesday, August 2, 2016

Fiber & Friends #4

Possibly the biggest-deal class I did at Fiber & Friends was the Fisher Lassie Cardigan class with Bonne Marie Burns, the designer. What an eye-opening pleasure it was to approach the making of a complex sweater with its designer by your side!
(c) Bonne Marie Burns
The Fisher Lassie is a modern adaptation of the traditional fisherman's gansey design. The Net Loft has been undertaking a major gansey project in Cordova for over a year, learning about and recreating the historical garment for contemporary fishers in a location as dedicated to commercial fishing as the British and Dutch herring towns were in the 19th century. In the days before synthetic waterproof clothing, tightly knit wool was the best choice for keeping warm when wet. Ganseys had special design features to enable vigorous movement, yet were also displays of beautiful textures that showed the knitter's skill and imagination.

Uncredited photo of Dutch fishermen in their ganseys

Bonne Marie Burns designed the Fisher Lassie as a cardigan partly because in modern centrally-heated times we go in and out of warm and cool, and a cardigan is easier to put on and take off as needed. Out of respect for tradition, it is made with a wool yarn, but a substantial dk weight that is still less dense than the traditional 5-ply.

Over the two days of the class, we learned about measuring for size, and how to choose the right size to make based on the amount of ease the garment was designed for, and the amount of ease we personally prefer. Gauge, of course, is a major factor in the size of the sweater that actually turns up on the needles. We swatched carefully and thoroughly, thinking about needle material and knitting location as well as simply needle size. It all makes a difference!

This sweater has a rather unique construction, and it was terrific to have the designer there to explain it in detail. Overall, it is "knit in one piece", but sequence is important. First the patterned two upper parts of the front are knitted. Then the upper back is picked up and knit into the fronts, with the back neck cast on in the middle. When front and back are the same length (and on the same row of the texture pattern!) the armhole bottom is cast on and the whole thing is worked from side to back to other side. Almost as if it were in the round, but you have to stop at the button bands, turn over, and go back around with the other side facing. It's a little more complicated than the average sweater.

Bonne Marie (center) explains some concepts
 We had Bonne Marie's own original to examine up close and personal, which was a great help. In addition to the particulars of this sweater, she taught us some great techniques to use in all our future knitting: a sturdy same-row buttonhole, a pick-up-and-knit that is as strong as a sewn seam, how to sew on a button that will never come off.

Eventually we were fully prepared to cast on for the Real Thing.

Saturday, July 30, 2016

Fiber & Friends #3

I've wanted to dye with indigo for a very long time, probably about as long as I've been fooling around with fiber. Indigo ikat sashiko, shibori and batik have always been favorites in shades of blue. I even own an indigo dye kit that I have never felt competent to use.

So I was absolutely elated to find that I could take a class in Cordova from a true natural dye expert, Kathy Hatori of Botanical Colors.  I had read enough about indigo to know that it was an art, not just a 1 2 3 set of instructions.

The class was held outdoors, at a cabin by Eyak Lake. It's a great idea to dye outdoors, for obvious color-drippy reasons.

Here's our class space--a propane burner and vat for each student, with various dyed and undyed skeins hanging about. The magenta and golden skeins were for overdying with indigo. I was so preoccupied with turning white yarn blue, I never got around to the overdyes.

My main aim was to dye my 6 skeins of Cormo wool from a Juniper Moon CSA share bought last year. My plan was to just plainly dye two skeins, dye two skeins shibori-style with resist areas, and do an ombre job on the last two.

First up was the process of making the vat: stirring up the indigo powder with a little henna and calcium hydroxide.  We started in quart jars and eventually progressed to the big pots of warm water. Because making indigo dye is an organic process, there's some waiting time, but eventually you get your vat ready to go, and it looks like this:

Bubbly scum on top, and a metallic sheen. The top of the vat is blue because the dye has oxidized in contact with the air, but the liquid below the surface is a green tea color. As you proceed with your dyeing, you must constantly check the color of the dye solution, and rebalance it with additions of fructose when it veers from that tea green.

One thing you quickly learn about indigo is that your fiber exits the vat not blue, but green. Then with exposure to air, the dye oxidizes and turns blue. Intensity and depth of color is not so much the strength of the dye solution, but the number of times the item has been in and out of the vat, each dip with a pause to air and oxidize.

Here is the pair of cormo skeins tied with rubber bands and ready to go in:

And here is a pair of the plain skeins after a couple of trips to the vat: 

They look a bit uneven because they have picked up some of the powder from the bottom of the vat. A plain water rinse evened them out and neutralized the pH from the dye solution.

 Here are my products of the day, posed with some fishnets for added ambiance--The darker blues are the plain skeins, the lighter ones the shibori and the other two. Plus the colorful non-overdyes.  Time and the waning strength of my dye vat made my later skeins much lighter than the first two, and the ombre version a goal for the next time.

Yarn is famously not the only thing that turns blue on indigo day. Indigo dyers are known for their blue hands. Though I wore gloves during the actual dyeing, I got a little blue in the paws just from handling the yarn to reskein it  before its final rinse.

Thursday, July 21, 2016

Fiber & Friends #2

The Net Loft encourages its community to be multi-craftual, and in keeping with this aim, many of the Fiber & Friends 2016 classes were not about knitting or spinning. The first one of these that I took was net making, a chance to learn the basics of fish nets, while making small decorative samples.

The class was taught by Bonnie Phillips, who mended nets in the original Net Loft when it was exactly that. She has had varied careers since, but has always made artistic use of net materials, buttons, beads, bones, and feathers. For a picture of Bonnie in her net mending heyday and the story of how she inspired Dotty Wideman to start a craft paradise called the Net Loft, look here.

Our classroom table was set up with a 2 cup hook jig at each place on the table, and with a packet of supplies and some instruction, we wound our needles with waxed linen cord and began:

The knots in a net are a simple pattern of half hitches, but it takes a lot of practice to remember the sequence and form the loops evenly. In imitation of the real thing, decorations are strung along the top like floats, and on the bottom like weights. Because it is a fanciful art project, beads and things may be scattered around the netting as well. These are examples of some of the students' work:

Here's my first effort:

Pretty uneven, but, then, I don't need to catch any fish with it, I guess. My first knitting was probably pretty uneven, too. Decorations were some beads on the top and mainly some single earrings saved after I had lost one of the pair.

Notice the boo boo extra loop on the right side. Easy mistake to make, hard to correct. But, as I'm sure thousands of knitters and crafters have thought since the beginning of twisted fiber, what happens if I make that error consistently and on purpose? It's a pattern! It's a design feature!

Another mistake I made from the beginning of signing up for the class was the intended purpose of these little nets. From the git-go they looked like necklaces to me. I was a bit surprised that this had not seriously occurred to anyone else, and that the original vision was for them to hang in a window (light through glass beads) or in a frame or pinned to a board.

So in the afternoon session I laid out my journeyman effort with the intention that it should be a necklace and that a different shape would make it better to wear. Having used up most of the decoration stuff I brought, I had to repair to the shop downstairs for more dangle supplies. In the end, this is what came together:

Shell pieces, metal charms, bone and wooden fish, and a somewhat more even net! A necklace! A net-klace!

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Fiber & Friends #1

In spite of my good intentions, I just couldn't manage to blog during the Net Loft Fiber & Friends event in Cordova AK. It was all I could manage while attending daylong classes to poop out a few Instagrams; hope you enjoyed them. But I do want to tell  you about it all, so here goes in a post-happening series of posts.

Because the ferry schedule is so awkward, (so awkward, indeed, that the web site is hopelessly out of date and you'd better phone them if you're serious about going there) I had to arrive a day ahead of the start. This turned out to be a useful opportunity to scope out the town and environs. And at the Chinese restaurant just before I crossed the street to sign in, this was my fortune cookie:

The first Saturday and Sunday: a two-day workshop about hat design. Whaat? Two days to figure out how to knit a topper? Well, yes, if your teacher is the brilliant Bonne Marie Burns.

She used the humble knit beanie to give us insight into the design process of all knit garments. This means some serious and diligent swatching (stitch and row), and serious thought about sizing, materials, construction, and an historical detour into the development of the knit hat from the 1400s.

She taught us how the math of the top decreases rules the process, and how the designer can fiddle, fudge, frog, and maybe some other f-words, too, to make inspiration mesh with stitch counts and create a realistic plan for a real product.

We learned about using tear sheets for inspiration, and wrote our own design concept statements, followed by the hard graft of the actual plan for the design.
We measured heads, swatched swatches, swatched potential stitch patterns, tried out this 'n' that, so that by the end of the two days, I had a clear idea of what I wanted to do, and a definite plan for it,  but had not cast on a serious stitch yet. Eventually I did cast on, and in fits and starts and odd moments managed to make most of what I call the rough draft version of my hat.

The Big Idea was to make a 4-panel hat featuring a scallop shell texture motif in each one. The shell was based on one in an Alice Starmore sweater, Cape Cod by name. Executed in a different gauge and fiber, however, it was a miserable squashed caricature of a shell, so needed a good bit of revising and rescaling. Likewise, the panel dividers went through several iterations, as did the crown decrease method. I can now say with confident experience that as the proof of the pudding is in the eating, the proof of the pattern is in the knitting. You just don't know what it will look like till you know what it looks like. 

Here's the finished product, with rough draft huddled below.

 3/4 view:

 And the top. Just love that p2tog "button" as the center finish:

I have to say I'm really proud and pleased with myself, and massively grateful to Bonne Marie for all she taught us.

Saturday, June 18, 2016

Oops! She Fumbles! She Recovers!

Remember when I said in the last post that you can't tell for sure how a sweater will be until you sew the pieces together. Welp, that goes double and triple for the current item under construction. Sewed Sleeve #1 on, no problem. Got sleeve #2 ready to pin and, um, let's just take a look, shall we?

That's #1 in place, fine and dandy. Here's #2:

Compare and contrast. One of these things is not like the other. If you said there seems to be a triangle missing from the edge of #2, you'd be absolutely right! This is what comes of knitting the first sleeve as a "swatch", then the body, then the second as an afterthought. You stop increasing too early and end up with two utterly different sleeve shapes. Sigh.

My life flashed before my eyes as I initially thought I would have to frog all. of. the. pattern. area. of. the. sleeve. and do it again with edge increases. And how would it look made with partially shrunken and frogged crinkly yarn and partly with new yarn? Or knit a whole new friggin' sleeve and shrink it?

In the midst of the Slough of Despond (where the frogs live), I realized that this is a gansey. (I know, brilliant deduction, Sherlock, but stay with me.) One of the design features that marks gansey construction is the arm gusset, a diamond-shaped piece in the armpit area that makes for freer movement of the fisherman's active arms. I could make a half-gusset, a triangle rather than a diamond, to add the missing shape! Counting rows and stitches of the missing area, I came up with this:

I sewed it to one side of the misshapen sleeve (easing to account for its non-shrinkage) and washed the whole sweater again.
This is in its pre-shrunken state. Notice color difference as well.
Now what do you think?

According to the trotting horse theory, it's game over and fix accomplished, all within the tradition! Anyway, it's in the underarm area, and anyone who is inspecting my sweater armpits can go sit on a fishhook.