Thursday, February 21, 2008

"You may be right..."

"I may be crazy..."

Because here's the latest addition to the crafting studio:

Some of you may recognize it as a NZAK (New Zealand AutoKnitter) AKA a sock knitting machine. Apparently I took leave of my senses about a month ago, ordered it, and here it is today.

Actually, it wasn't really that I suddenly went crazy, it was fate. Here's how it happened:

I absolutely love knitting socks, and I absolutely love gadgets of all kinds. So, when I saw that Jacquie Grant in NZ was making new sock knitting machines (most brands of machines ceased production many, many years ago) I immediately wanted one. I wanted it bad, but they are not inexpensive -- in fact, they are quite dear. Especially for a hobbyist who has no desire to sell socks. So, like the mature adult I pretend to be, I tried my best to talk myself out of wanting one. And I was doing OK at rationalizing why it wasn't the best idea I'd ever had. Until,

... I noticed that this production run of machines was NY Giant blue. Now this was before the Super Bowl, and Giant frenzy was running high chez Mingling Yarn. So, I made a little bargain with myself (you know, they way you often do) -- if the Giants won the Super Bowl, then that would be a sign that I should go ahead and buy the machine, if they lost (as almost everyone expected), then no deal. I thought that was a fairly safe bargain -- there was no way the Giants would be able to beat the 18-0 NE Patriots and win the Super Bowl. I would be able to maintain a level of maturity, and console myself with the idea that a sock machine was just not meant to be.

And then -- amazingly -- the Giants won.

What else could I do?

I don't usually give names to my fiber equipment, but I'm calling this one Eli.

Saturday, February 9, 2008

I felt that...

I've been knitting socks for quite a while. I love them because they're a relatively quick project, easily portable and, most importantly, I have cold feet. Nice warm wooly socks keep those toes so much more comfortable than any cotton, nylon or acrylic can. The spouse claims to enjoy wearing them too, so I keep him well supplied.

Nothing good lasts forever though, and there always comes a time when that first little hole appears. Here's one peeking through even as we speak --

Now normally I would just snip that offending hole right off the sock, pick up the live stitches and knit a new toe. This time, however, I'm up against the problem of having no more yarn to do so. I hate to see a good sock go bad, so let's try a little needle felting.

I had a felting needle I bought at MD Sheep & Wool a few years back (and never used), some leftover high density foam from a home dec. project, and some fiber -- seems like a good solution to me. Now, unfortunately, I tend to like to spin natural colored fiber, so I didn't have a good match for those black socks. I went with some Jacob (the dark colored bits), figuring a brown-ish toe was better than an unwearable sock. If I'd had some black yarn, I might have tried that -- but no luck there, either.

OK, I've never tried needle felting before, but why let that stop me. So I turned the sock inside out, stuffed the toe with the foam, layered on a thin bit of fiber, and started punching the needle up and down. By golly, it forms a nice, cushioned mat right over that hole.

Just for good measure, I turned the sock right side out, re-inserted the foam inside the toe, and punched away on that side too. (You know, this is almost as good for releasing pent up energy as kneading bread.) When I was done, I had a nice, thin layer of felt patching the hole in the toe of the sock. I spread the felting out over most of the toe -- an ounce of prevention...

And here's the outside of the sock, post felting --

You can see a 'beard' of the lighter colored fiber against the black of the sock. So, not as elegant a solution as using same colored fiber, but it closed up the hole, reinforces the toe area and keeps the socks in circulation -- not too bad, eh? He'll just have to remember that these aren't the socks to wear when going through airport security!

Thursday, February 7, 2008

Blue Curacao

Or, in my case copper Curacao.

I had a few balls of the ONline Metallic leftover from making the Sera Lace Top (from Interweave Crochet), so I decided to see if I could get this shawl out of the remainder -- and I came really, really close! However, a ball with about 6 knots (I stopped counting after four) and another with yards and yards of snagged (or perhaps just mis-spun) yarn did me in. So, I left out the penultimate row -- still looks pretty good, I think.

The pattern is from Amazing Lace by Doris Chan. What is really amazing is that this is the fourth design I've made using Ms. Chan's patterns -- guess I must like them! There were a couple of errors (I believe) in this pattern, but nothing really earth-shattering -- row 10 has an extra ch 3 in the directions, and there is a discrepancy between the written instructions and the chart for the final edging row. Because I left out the next-to-the-last row I had to do a little creative fudging on the last row, but again, nothing major.

I think I may make this pattern again, next time using a yarn that is closer in weight, texture, etc. to the yarn called for. It was a fun project, and went rather quickly.

Sunday, February 3, 2008

House shoes, pocket slippers, what have you...

The inspiration: From Target, a pair of travel slippers, or house shoes, or pocket slippers. Easy to slip on, take up very little room in luggage, all in all, quite convenient. The problem? They're not very warm. Made from some type of man-made yarn (label long since thrown away), they just don't provide much heat for chilly toes. The challenge? Try to come up with a similar pattern but made from lovely, cozy wool. These particular slippers are crocheted, but only the upper part -- the sole is made from some sort of non-slip fabric -- very much like what you would find on the bottom of children's 'all-in-one' blanket sleepers. I could have tried to duplicate that since I do sew, but I decided to go with a totally crocheted option. Here's my prototype:

I used Valley Yarns Amherst merino from Webs , 2 skeins, each 50 g. and 109 yards per skein -- priced at $3.99 each. The trim is a few yards (doubled) of a fluffy yarn from OnLine (whose name currently escapes me). I have some scraps of Ultrasuede which I will use to sew on the bottom to help add a little non-skid action.
Then, I decided to try a different yarn -- long discontinued Ballybrae from Brunswick.

I used one skein of Ballybrae (100 g. - 190 yards) plus some scrap red yarn for the trim. This pair has a full faux suede sole crafted from sewing scraps -- traced around my own foot for a pattern. In addition (in a belt and suspenders move), I also added some clear silicone sealant to the toe and heel area of the sole. These were given to someone else -- hopefully I'll hear how that non-skid combination works out.

For anyone who may be interested in what I did to come up with these, here's a little 'recipe' --

Materials -- about 100 g. or 200 yards of worsted weight yarn for the body of the slippers. Small amounts of other yarn for trim, or decoration, if desired. A package of elastic cording (available in any sewing store) to run around the slipper opening. Something to provide a non-skid surface for the slipper sole: this could include clear silicone sealant (available at most hardware stores), OR puffy fabric paint (available at most big-box craft stores) OR some type of non-skid fabric to be sewn to the soles -- Jiffy Grip is a brand of non-skid fabric made specifically for the purpose (available in most sewing stores) or you could use faux suede, or perhaps even the thin non-skid mats used for rug underlays/other non-skid applications. A crochet hook in the size needed to give you a firm fabric for the yarn you have chosen -- sorry, you'll have to decide that for yourself!

Begin with an adjustable loop and then work 6 sc (single crochet) into the loop. You will work each sucessive round in a spiral -- do not join each round, do not chain 1 to begin a new round.

  • Round 2: increase in each stitch in ring by working 2 sc in each stitch -- 12 stitches.
  • Round 3: work even -- 12 stitches.
  • Round 4: increase in each stitch by working 2 sc in each stitch -- 24 stitches.
  • Rounds 5-8: work even on 24 stitches.
  • Round 9: Increase 6 stitches by working 2 sc into every fourth stitch. - 30 stitches
  • Rounds 10 - 12: Work even on 30 stitches.
  • Round 13: Increase 6 stitches by working 2 sc into every fifth stitch -- 36 stitches.

Now, try on the slipper -- if you are using a thicker yarn, you may find that 36 stitches is enough to comfortably go around your foot. If so, you will make no more increases, but continue to work rounds of 36 stitches until the slipper is long enough to cover your toes completely. Do that, then take a break while everyone else catches up!
If you need more width --
  • Rounds 14 & 15: Work even on 36 stitches.
  • Round 16: Increase 6 stitches by working 2 sc into every sixth stitch -- 42 stitches.

You can, of course, customize the width of your slipper by working fewer/more stitches on your increase round. I found that an increase of 6 stitches each round worked well for me, but you may need/want a different rate of increase. This is a small, quick project, so it's easy to try different things if you aren't pleased with the numbers I used.

As before, continue working even when the width of your slipper is sufficient for your foot.

When you have reached the bottom of your pinkie toe (or whatever depth you prefer) you will start to work in rows, back and forth, for the sides and bottom of the slipper. Try on your slipper, mark how wide you want your opening to be with two markers, or two scraps of yarn, in the outer stitches of where you want your opening to be. I have found that leaving an opening of about 10 - 12 stitches works well -- you may prefer more, or less. Work over to the first marked stitch -- now, you will begin to work back and forth in rows, so chain 1, turn and work sc over the stitches you have just worked and on to the other side where you have marked the other edge of your opening. Chain 1, turn and working in rows, back and forth, continue working sc rows until your slipper is the length of your foot. Work one additional row, decreasing 1 stitch in the middle of your row. When you have completed this last row, fold your slipper in half, wrong sides together, and work the back closed by slip stitching through the two edges. Fasten off. Run in your loose end on the inside of the slipper. If you are sewing a non-slip fabric to your slipper sole, you may want to wait and do that before you slip stitch the back seam closed -- your choice.

Now, for a nice, snug fit, let's run that elastic cording around the opening of your slipper. Thread a length of cord through a large-eyed craft needle and skim it through the top edge of the opening on the wrong side of the slipper. The cording should not be worked through to the right side of the slipper -- just skim it along the top edge on the wrong side. Begin and end at the back/heel seam. Now, put on the slipper and pull on both ends of the elastic cording until it is snug against your foot. You don't want to cut off circulation, but you do want snug, so it will stay on your foot and not flop around. When you have it adjusted to your liking, tie a square knot (right over left/left over right) in the cording and cut off the excess ends. If you want, you could apply a spot of Fray Check, or glue, to the knot for extra security.

For the opening edging, use a hook that is one size larger than you used for the slipper, and work somewhat loosely. SC around the opening (beginning/ending at the back seam) with either a contrasting yarn, or, if desired, the same yarn you used for the slipper. Make sure you insert your hook through the edge and UNDER the elastic so that you will completely cover it. You may want to use your contrast yarn doubled to provide extra coverage -- again, it's a tiny amount of crocheting, so experiment to get the look you want! Fasten off, and run in loose ends. Apply non-skid treatment to sole -- if you are using a liquid treatment (puff paint, silicone sealant, etc.) stuff you slipper with paper so that the treatment doesn't run through and spoil the other side.

Now, do it all again (you DID write down how many stitches/rows, didn't you?)

These directions will give you a fairly plain vanilla slipper -- you could add any embellishment you want -- crocheted flowers as the inspiration had, buttons, ribbons, whatever takes your fancy!