March 28, 2010

Adventures in Felting - Part I

Working on my next project now, a zippered, felted bag using Lamb's Pride worsted wool. For those of you that felt, you know that having a front-loading washing machine presents a bit of a challenge as most front-loaders don't allow you to stop the machine mid-cycle (thus controlling the felting process).

So I decided to approach this on a very scientific level and do some tests. I knitted up some swatches in different colors using stockinette stitch, using various needle sizes, then put my swatches in a pillow case (as has been suggested), put in a tablespoon of shampoo and 1/2 cup of white vinegar, then put it on the hottest setting and ran the cycle.

This is what came out.

Each swatch was crumpled up in a little ball initially. This is how it looked after flattening it out the best I could. Also, because each swatch was knit in stockinette, the edges naturally tended to curl, so the curled edge actually bonded to the main part of the swatch, creating a overly-thick edge. You can see this best on the top of the medium and navy blue swatches.

I'm not really happy with this first test. The felting seems irregular and lumpy. I wonder if this is because of the pillow case. Maybe the pillow case works best for larger items...or in a top loading machine. Next test I will try letting them float around inside the machine without hindrance. The other thing I will try is putting a few stitches/rows of garter stitch around all four edges to see if that doesn't cure the curling problem.

I also found it fascinating that the white tube swatch did a couple of things. Well, first it turned grey (duh) from being surrounded by it's blue-tinged buddies. And it didn't felt...just maybe got just marginally more fuzzy. So this little thing in my brain clicks and I just feel like someone has told me this before...that this white yarn doesn't felt. Can't remember who said it or if I read it somewhere, but whatever. The tube is the same exact size as before the wash and the other swatches shrank close to 50%. So, note to self and anyone else using Lamb's Pride wool to felt...not the best results with the pure white.

So on to Test #2.

March 27, 2010


Your first modeling gig young Isaac! Thank you for letting us pull at your little limbs as we coaxed you into the little red parka, made silly noises and faces, pointed strange electronic contraptions at you, then gazed at you in wonderment at how cute you are. You are a patient soul.

It's all good news. The baby parka fits an actual baby. It's funny, but I was secretly dreading that after all that work, it somehow wouldn't fit. It looked too small for anyone to wear. Cute as! And the hood comes down if baby wants his noggin' to get some sunshine.

A true Y.A.E! (Young Antarctic Explorer!)

March 25, 2010

Little Red

On the Ice, we sometimes refer to our parkas as 'Big Red.' Here's a few at work profiling a crack in sea ice.

Big Red...

...Little Red. Ta da!

It's complete with name tag embroidered onto white felt. This could say anything...the kids name, 'little red,' 'ice, ice baby' or whatever.

What parka would be complete without the 'Hoffman Patch?' It's the semi-official name for that rectangle of reflective material (3M makes it) on the back of parkas. It's called Hoffman because years ago the parkas didn't have the reflective patch on the back. During the Antarctic winter when it's dark 24/7, it could be darn difficult to see people wandering around town. Sure enough a guy named Hoffman got hit by a truck and broke his leg. After that, the reflective patches appeared on the backs.

Now you'll never lose your kid in the dark. Or you could hold junior up in the air and use for an emergency beacon!

This came out great. I'm very happy with it. Now the true test is to have a wee one model it, and I have just the tyke in mind; my friend's bub Isaac. He's brand new. Hopefully this will fit him since I kind of made up this pattern loosely based on another pattern. I'll post photos when I get them.

March 18, 2010

Getting There

I spent a good portion of today finishing the hood, adding the faux fur edge and getting the lining ready to install. It's looking more like a mini parka every day! Here's the lining pinned into the body and the hood. Just a tiny bit of trimming here and there and all I have to do is sew it in, and the zipper which I might have to run out and buy.

Once it's done, the last thing to do is test the fit on a suitable subject. My friend Vanessa just had a wee one called Isaac about a month or so ago, so he'll be perfect. Can't wait to see it modeled!

Should have the finishing touches done in the next few days. Stay tuned.

March 16, 2010

Lamb's Pride Joy

Oh the joys of new yarn! I ordered this armful for a special felting project and it is with such delight that I realize the colors are exactly what I wanted. That yarn that looks black is actually a deep, royal blue.

A lot of people love Brown Sheep Lamb's Pride worsted wool. It is 85% wool and 15% mohair and comes in a huge range of colors and is great for felting. It's lovely to knit just has a nice feeling in the hands as you knit it and the stitch definition is really nice too. I buy my Lamb's Pride from Paradise Fibers. They have all the colors and ship internationally. You can also go to the Brown Sheep website -- they don't sell their yarn online -- but you can use the website for color comparison and to see the full range of yarns they offer.

I'm doubly excited to receive the Lamb's Pride color charts. Now I know exactly what colors there are and what they look like. No more guessing from the computer screen.

I see they have a range of yarns (right hand column of the right hand color chart) that have slight variations in color. They are just gorgeous! (They have separated each color with a line of black yarn.)

Why am I so excited about yarn? and knitting? I have no idea. I guess I just love color and I love doing something with my hands. And making something useful. It's all mixed up in a big ball of fun for me.


I finished the hood and it was oh-so-cute!!

Only too small.

So I cut, and ripped and ripped and ripped. Alllll the way back to the beginning of the hood.

Starting over. It was painful, but I'm back on track.


March 13, 2010

Shoulders, Sleeves and Hood

Little setbacks and a lot of progress and the baby parka is coming right along.

Here I have attached the back piece and the front piece at the shoulders using a great technique called '3 Needle Bind-Off.' It creates a very flat and tidy seam using two pieces that have open stitches at the top.

As you can see at the bottom of the photo, I have picked up some stitches on the side and have started one sleeve. I knit that out to about 5 or 6 inches then seamed up the side edges of the front and back together, then under the armpit and down the sleeve.

Close-up of picked-up sleeve stitches

As of last night, I have finished both sleeves and sewn the seam up the sides, under the armpit and down the sleeves. I had completed one sleeve when I discovered I had made a mistake in my math and made the sleeve too narrow. So I had to unravel it and start over. I don't like the feeling of going backwards in knitting, but sometimes it is necessary. The good thing is now I can count rows accurately and know exactly where I am when I rip out stitches and have to start over.

I picked up stitches around the neck, increased slightly and am now well into knitting the hood. It is interesting to me that if I were to cast off right now, I'd have a very cute sweater that has a cute little fold-over collar. So simple! Funny thing is, I have trouble thinking in 3-D so a lot of times I discover things in the process of knitting. If I were to try and figure out that collar without stumbling upon it while knitting, it would be very difficult for me.

It's starting to look like a bonafide garment now. Something wearable by someone. Albiet someone very leeetle.

March 07, 2010

Baby Parka Progress

Here's the progress so far. I've knitted the back and one complete front side. Still working on the other front side. The color in this photo is a little bit off because the yarn has such a nice sheen. It almost looks like a deep pink, but it's actually a very nice shade of red. I can't believe how fast this sweater is going...babies are quite small and knitting stuff for them is fun as the projects shape up very quickly.

The yellow yarns are simply holding stitches that will be used later on (instead of binding off).

I tried the Lamb's Pride yarn as a possible alternative, and although it's a nice thick weight, it is 100% wool and not machine washable. I worried that the sweater would mistakenly be thrown in with the rest of the wash and it would be ruined. New Mom's have more important things to do than worry about the special washing instructions for one particular piece of clothing. 100% wool will shrink and start felting when put into a washing machine. So I've decided to stick with the Cashmerino. I've started thoughts about lining it with a nice fleece which would give the parka some body.

I have so many other projects in my mind at the moment, but they will have to wait. I have an awesome skein of bamboo sock yarn I bought in Hawera when I was there recently. I have a pattern for a pair of felted slippers I've wanted to try. I bought this amazing collection of yarns including a beautiful ribbon yarn in San Diego when I was there that's going to be knit together to create my winter scarf.

This bamboo sock yarn is titled appropriately. It is so soft and the colors represent most everything in my wardrobe.

This is a hand-dyed yarn from the north island, New Zealand, appropriately called "fern." It is a giant ball and I can make many things from it. It would be great for felting.

March 06, 2010

Making Stuff Up

My next project is a baby sweater that looks like one of the U.S. Antarctic Program parkas. I purchased a lovely Debbie Bliss merino wool and cashmere blend yarn ("Cashmerino") in the appropriate shade of red. I am using an existing pattern from a book of baby stuff as a guide. Ultimately, the 'parka' will have a faux fur trim on the hoodie and zip up the front. I may or may not add the reflective patch on the back, but it would be an nice touch for authenticity.

Here's me in a USAP parka:

Here's a drawing of my idea:

Except it will be a zip-up instead of buttons and I may leave off the fur on the sleeves, but it does look kind of cute that way (with the fur). Would be cute to put on a white name badge like the real parka and embroider the word "baby" on it or something. People could personalize their own baby parkas by embroidering their baby's name on it. Cool. I just thought of this while I was typing.

Creating a pattern like this is a challenge for me. I have only knit one sweater in my time successfully, although I'd like to do more eventually.

I knitted some swatches to get a gauge and have started knitting the back of the sweater. After about 30 rows, I am starting to feel that the yarn might not be heavy enough to give the feeling of a parka. But with babies, it seems important to use a very soft yarn. Maybe not even so much for the baby's sake, but for the mother's, ha ha. This yarn I am using is very soft and has a nice drape -- great for a sweater -- but maybe not so great for a parka.

I have another yarn I can try -- Lamb's Pride worsted in a similar red. But I reckon a baby parka made from that would have to be lined as the Lamb's Pride is not as soft. Not impossible certainly. I may knit up a swatch of that to see how it feels in my hand.

My needles are calling...

March 04, 2010

I Heart Noggin' Warmers

I love making hats! They are the perfect project for me -- just enough room to be creative -- yet they only take a few days each to make. And the result is something fun and very useful, especially for those in colder climates. Antarctica is such a climate and I've sent 10 of my hats down to the Ice this winter for folks to purchase. The nice thing about my hats is that they are all lined with windblock fleece, for add added layer of warmth and comfort. Here's a few of the ones I sent down:

This hat is made from all the bits of leftover hand-dyed that I had lying around. Stripes are FUN!
I found a wonderful knitting book at Barnes and Nobles when I was in California, called 'The Essential Guide to Color Knitting Techniques,' by Margaret Radcliffe. In this book are wonderful new patterns and ways to use color including these fun ovals. I added bobbles to the top for texture.
This is a Parka Hat. It is red, like the parkas the U.S. Antarctic Program issues to their employees. And it has a reflective patch on it, just like the backs of the parkas. The reflective patch on the parkas is to increase visibility of people walking around town, especially in winter when it's dark and when blowing snow can make spotting people difficult. Years ago, someone was hit by a vehicle, breaking their leg and that prompted the "Hoffman Patch" to be put on all issue parkas. So this hat mimics the parkas and the patch is worn to the back. It's made with Lamb's Pride worsted.

I had a bunch of brightly-colored Icelandic wool in my stash so I created this fun hat, just playing with intarsia and having a ball. The wool is so thick and warm, but a little scratchy, so like the others, this hat is lined with windblock fleece.

I'm really happy with how this black hat came out.

I used another technique from the book I mentioned before in this looks like chains and it's SO easy! I used some more of my hand-dyed scraps to make the three chain rows and the very top of the hat, and Cascade for the main color of the hat. It's just a sharp looking hat I think. Great fit, looks good and just the right amount of pointy-ness on top. I think this hat would suit men and women both.

Here's an inside view of the lining...

Even though it is the first days of autumn here in New Zealand, summer feels like it wants to stay for a while. The past week the weather has been brilliant; warm and sunny with the clear air full of fun and promise. I hope it stays like this for a while. It's only a matter of time before things get really chilly here which, now that I think of it, will be an EXCELLENT excuse to knit and wear more hats, socks, scarves and things!