Monday, April 23, 2007

Going, GOING, Gaughan!

I really lurve, luff, love Norah Gaughan designs. This is somewhat of a recent development most likely precipitated by her design evolution intersecting my evolution in taste. I was aware of her before but recently I find I want to knit most everything she designs. Now I should state up front that my tastes tend to skew funkier and younger than I actually am. My personal philosophy on what I want to knit eliminates two categories of design:
  1. Those designs that I can purchase at Walmart for $9.95. Usually, sleeveless, stockinette and cream.

  2. Those designs that look like I'm auditioning for a lead role in the stage version of Driving Miss Daisy.

Ms. Gaughan's designs look to be fun to knit and for the most part...wearable. The recent controversy around her "Capecho" (notice the root word "cape" here - hello, first clue) on the cover of a recent Vogue Knitting certainly isn't her fault. Some rogue stylist at the photo shoot no doubt got the brilliant idea to clip the back of the garment to make it fit closer to the body. This only came to light after many innocent knitters spent many hours making this design only to find that it a cape - not a shrug. Vogue Knitting Magazine did print a "clarification" stating that the design was not "close fitting". Not quite an apology though that would have been nice. I guess that makes it a "Youa Culpa".

Another of her patterns that has made knitters nervous is the Roundabout Leaf Tank from her book "Knitting Nature" last year. I agree that showing garments on rail-thin models can make us mere mortals wonder if it would look ok on us but I saw a few brave Internet bloggers make this one and when the proper yarn is used and proper size achieved, it looks great. I decided to make mine in a colour I rarely knit with or wear - red. This is the Berroco Denim Silk (now discontinued) in a shade called Paprika. I'm knitting it on Lantern Moon Ebony needles. It was started on vacation to B.C. last summer and then abandoned in the Fall. I recently pulled it over my head and held it up around my hips to see if it would hang properly. I became smitten again and thus another UFO is resurrected.

I wasn't going to rush out and get the new Lace Style book by Interweave until I caught a glimpse of the Norah Gaughan design in this collection. It's called the Lacy Waves top. I can't even see the whole thing but "You had me at the yoke". I'll be getting the book this Saturday.

Her Bonsai Tunic in the Spring 2007 Interweave Knits also called to me. IK was kind enough to show front and back shots (Look Mom - no clips!). I battled my dislike for ribbon yarns and cast on to make this lovely design. Here's my progress thus far and the knitting has been delightful. Even ripping back hasn't been as traumatic as I'd thought.

When Natural Knitter (not to be confused with Knitting Nature) was published last month it was this amazing sweater that seduced me. I happen to have sourced the exact yarn needed for this as well. Classic and very feminine. I bet it feels great on.

So when I'm eating cat food as an old lady because I drained my life savings to make Norah Gaughan designs I can take solace in one truth. At least I had a hell of a fun time planning and knitting those garments. Maybe they'll be fetching enough to catch me a meal ticket in my old age?

Monday, April 16, 2007

Foreign Objects

Other spinners warned me that once I got my first wheel it would be a slippery slope towards acquiring more wheels after that. I didn't believe them. After all, I'd settled on a Schacht wheel which is one of the most versatile wheels on the market. What else could I want??? Weellll - portability. The Schacht is a bit of a brute. That's what makes it such a work horse. I hadn't factored in that my spinning guild would be so active in terms of displays and spin days. It wasn't long before I started eyeing up the new folding wheels.

I'd spun on a Lendrum for a few months and it is a very nice wheel - no doubt about it. It did fold down a bit but was still substantial to transport (13 lbs). I was quite taken with the Louet Victoria wheel which clocks in at around 7.75 lbs and comes in a nice carrying case. A friend of mine got one for Christmas and I had a chance to spin on it over the holidays. It treadled beautifully and spun nicely but was a bit tinier than I needed. My friend and her family go North camping quite a bit and she wanted something to take back and forth every weekend. I wanted something between the Lendrum and the Louet Victoria. When I saw the specs on the Kromski Sonata, I sensed I was getting close. Weighing around 11.5lbs, the Sonata is made of Birch and Alder (I recall reading somewhere but I'm trying to verify that) and is made by the Kromski family in Poland. Their wheels tend to be more ornate and "old world" but the Sonata had a nice touch of that ornate design without being too gingerbread. It's a true double treadle meaning there are two treadles with two footmen each attached to the wheel crank. It's a reasonably priced wheel and the reviews from people who'd purchased from the first December shipment were glowing. I contacted Wildrose Fibres in Alberta and put my name on the list. I asked Colleen about the Walnut stain which was marketed as an introductory limited edition offering. Since the first shipment sold so quickly, I assumed these were long gone. When Colleen sent me an e mail indicating there was a rumor of more walnut stained Sonatas in the next shipment, I was thrilled. I think of the Schacht as the classic blond American and the Kromski as the dark sultry brunette European. I simply wanted something different from my Schacht for variety. I ordered the bag especially designed to carry these wheels as well. A four day Easter weekend and a two day business trip kept my Sonata and I apart much longer than necessary but last Wednesday I came home and had a chance to see it up close.

Here's the wheel folded up. There is a hole in the wheel and the frame that match up allowing you to place a screw through both holes to anchor the wheel shut. The wheel folds open quickly and easily (19" x 22" folded) and comes with a total of 3 matching bobbins and a lazy kate that folds out from the foot of the frame. There's a bottle of oil too to get everything lubed and good to go.

Here's the wheel set up before its first run. I chose some Lisa Souza Blue Faced Leicester roving in the buttery Jonquil colourway to futz around and get the wheel to a point where I was spinning consistent yarn. I'd planned on a day or two of adjustments before I was happy with the results. I was shocked to discover that with 3 little tweaks, the Sonata was spinning beautiful, consistent yarn. The take up was perfect and the treadling smooth as silk. The wheel is nice a quiet and will be perfect for seminars and demonstrations. It felt solid and stable and I had lots of space on the treadles. I took the wheel apart and packed it in the bag to take it out again this past weekend. Once again, after a brief set up, a couple of adjustments had me on my way. I'm extremely pleased with my choice and this will be a great complement to my Schacht. I do miss my Woolee Winder though but hopefully, they will make one for the Sonata soon.

It's been postulated that spinning's growth in popularity has come from knitters turned spinners. As The Yarn Harlot puts it "Cool! Another way to get yarn." Knitters like knitting largely because it's portable and therefore this explosion in folding/portable wheels is an off-shoot of that expectation.

If you're wavering between a Louet Victoria and a Kromski Sonata I would suggest that the degree of portability you need be your guide. If you're like my friend and travel to a cottage, camp or travel on business a lot - I would recommend the Victoria. It takes up little room and delivers a nice spinning punch pound for pound. If you have a closet or two to store a slightly larger bag and want a wheel that will feel like a full sized wheel but be more portable - the Kromski Sonata is a great solution. Louet = traveling wheel, Kromski = portable wheel.

My Sonata and I have much beautiful yarn to make. I'm looking forward to taking it to my upcoming seminar on how to spin yarn to make socks in May. There's just something extra mysterious about an import.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

The Shell Game

So what's up with us having a green Christmas and a white Easter? This past weekend was cold, damp, snowy and overall, great for knitting. I have an idea as to what my summer projects will be but since it was still cold, I decided to resurrect Rheingold and get back at it. I always make my own charts when I'm making a Fair Isle sweater. I use stitch and motif maker and make a nice big colour chart. I love this pattern. It caught my eye from the start because I find that the Starmores tend more towards the jewel tones than the softer earth tones, pinks and lilacs I tend to favour. The greens, golds and coppers are right up my alley. I'm about 2/3 to the armhole steeks so I did "book it" a bit on the weekend. The Hebridean 2 ply is another of my desert island yarns. Each stitch is so wonderful. I find that projects using this yarn tend to become finished objects which is a big plus in its favour. I've enjoyed watching the older cherished patterns find new life in the Hebridean yarns. The colour pallet is much smaller than the yarns used when Alice Stamore was designing earlier yet the new interpretations are still stunning.

One classic Stamore pattern I've been jonesing to make forever is Luskentyre. Here is Luskentytre as it appeared in the rare and much sought after Scottish Collection. My buddy Hope actually knit that sweater for the photo in the book. I think it took her 47 minutes or something ridiculous. She lets me sit next to her at lunch some times and tells me again all about knitting it (after I beg her to tell me one more time). This also appealed to me because it was a design in delicate pastel shades - a departure from other colourways.

About 2 years ago, I heard from Virtual Yarns that they were planning to re work Luskentyre as a cardigan with a square neckline. Since Rheingold is a pullover and I prefer cardigans - I thought this would be right up my alley. The kit was posted recently and I fell hard. A surprise assignment for some freelance writing funded my purchase and the kit was soon winging its way to me from the Isle of Lewis. My Scottish grandmother who taught me how to knit is smiling from heaven for sure.

The picture doesn't really do the design justice. I believe it's a bit big for the model (Jade Starmore) and the sleeves look quite baggy. The sleeve picks up roughly the same number of stitches as other designs they produce but does not narrow down quite as much so is a bit fuller than normal but not quite as much as it appears to in the picture. The design itself is named after Luskentyre Beach in Scotland where the shells lie opened on the beach. The middle design is of this shell and gives quite an Art Nouveau sort of feel. I love Art Deco and Art Nouveau so this is probably a large part of the draw for me. I had a hard time imagining the colours used - the photos don't really show them off.

I had some left overs from other projects that matched the colours for Luskie and so, I swatched to get a sense of how it will actually look. I'm REALLY excited about this one. I think Alice Starmore has honoured the original design with a very elegant twist. I still love the original sweater and will most likely make it in the original yarns...some day.

To finish with a bit of a teaser...the Kromski Sonata arrived yesterday while I was away on business. I set it up tonight when I got home and spun on it a bit.

It rocks.

Full details after I've finished bonding with it.

Friday, April 06, 2007

Blue on Blue

I didn't even know Blue Face Leicester existed as a breed of fibre until this past year. I encountered it first as a spinner using Lisa Souza's lovely roving. I learned that the fibres are long and luscious and that I needed to allow more twist to enter the wool before winding it on the bobbin. Otherwise, it would shred because it was under spun. Since I like to have a rapport with the breeds I knit and spin with - I decided to see what they looked like. Pretty cute.

The references I found on the Internet called it the "poor man's cashmere". Extremely soft yet resistant to pilling and able to show off the stitch definition beautifully. I had been so pleased with my BFL hand spun that when I saw the Fleece Artist BFL in aran weight at Red Bird Knits, I suspected that I'd found the perfect yarn to make Ariann. Fleece Artist is to yarn what Godiva is to chocolate. Their colourways are breathtaking and range from bright to subtle. I rarely work with yarn that hasn't got some colour variation (unless I'm knitting Fair isle or Intarsia) because I really love how a yarn with a bit of variation (such as a tweed) dances with the cables or lacework to shift everything around. When it works, it really works. I had swatched in Berrocco Ultra Alpace and Lisa Souza merino angora but neither seemed to be the perfect yarn for Ariann. I decided to give the Fleece Artist BFL a try since it was the perfect gauge. As for colour...I chose blue of course and bought 3 skeins in the colourway Lagoon.

I worried a bit when I received the yarn that the colour changes would be a bit too dramatic to not overshadow the lace work in this pattern. I swatched and liked what I saw but the final proof would be in the larger sweater. I must say that I am absolutely in love with both this design and the yarn. The yarn is soft like butter with the perfect amount of spring. When I had a few inches on the needles I was able to see that the design and the shading of the yarn complemented each other perfectly. One did not over-shadow the other. In fact, it looks a bit like gentle waves lapping on to the beach of the lagoon- no?

This is turning into one of those projects that just has it all going on. I'm lovin big ole blue and given that this yarn has amazing yardage and comes in colours that are to die for, I think I may just have to go back for more. Not for a while though...summer knitting is up next.

I am quite excited because I finally decided on a second smaller wheel for travel. I love my Schacht, especially with the Woolee Winder but it is a brute to take to guild meetings etc. My friend has a Louet Victoria and she recently took it to Florida where she spun by the pool all week. I spun on it in December and loved it but wanted something a tad bigger. Enter the Kromski Sonata. I've ordered it from Wild Rose Fibres in Alberta and according to Colleen who owns the operation, the wheel shipped this past Monday. This is the second shipment (the first sold out in December very quickly). I had expressed an interest in one of the limited edition walnut stained wheels and lucked out when I got one!! I guess they decided to do a few more. I've ordered the bag as well. I had hoped that it would arrive by yesterday since Tuesday will be our next delivery but alas - my wheel is probably sitting in some Canada Post warehouse as we speak. Next post, I'll hopefully have some pictures of the new baby and a review of the wheel. I'm also hoping that Nathan Lee creates a Woolee Winder soon for the Sonata. Do you think he accepts bribes?