Last week when the temperatures dropped

It’s still too hot to knit big items, of course. As promised by the weather forecast it’s hotter than it was yesterday. Tomorrow it will be even hotter. Around here we say in Spanish “hace un calor que te torras” (“It’s so hot you’re roasting.”) My knitting hour is approaching. Jaywalker is waiting!

Last week when it was nice and cool I knocked off a few more rows of my mosaic blanket. Please accept my apologies for the yucky photo. I just couldn’t get enough light to shine on the darn thing in the right way so that the dark sections and the light sections could be equally visible. Anyway, Barbara Walker’s “Continued-Strip Mosaic Sampler” is just what I needed to whittle down the stash of acrylic yarn that the neighbor gave me. As you can see from my crummy photo you just go round and round and the blanket gets bigger and bigger:

The mosaic knitting patterns I’ve used so far, from the middle square outwards, respectively, are: “Arabesque, ” from Charted Knitting Designs: A Third Treasury of Knitting Patterns, “Wave,” from A Second Treasury of Knitting Patterns, and “Mosaic 40,” from A Fourth Treasury of Knitting Patterns.

I took a closeup of “Mosaic 40” to do it better justice. It just refused to show up well in a photo of the whole piece. Here it is:
As you can see from the pictures, as the blanket gets bigger the more scrunched up it gets when using flat needles. I could not, of course, get the center square to lie flat for a photo because of this. My next outer strip will be knit flat on a big circular needle, I think.
I will use this “pattern” for a blanket again (is it a pattern? perhaps a technique?). However, I will start with a smaller square in the middle next time to make it even more busy. This blanket is, aside from using up the acrylic yarn I’ve inherited, an excuse to try out whatever mosaic pattern from Barbara Walker’s books. I think it’s rather fun to just boldly use whatever colors on each strip, too. For each new round I close my eyes and grab two balls of yarn from the bin. For the first square and the first strip one of those balls happened to be white twice in a row. Look at what the third blind dive into the bin got me!
This blanket may have a future as a colorful, uncoordinated monstrosity, but it’s my monster. As a matter of fact, I’m sort of reveling in its potential to become a decoration disaster. It’ll definitely be something to casually use around the house, perhaps hidden from view, like a sinister knitting secret. Wahaha!

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It’s too hot to knit anything else

Here in Valladolid, Spain it’s wicked hot. Today it’s 88 degrees F (that’s 31 Celsius). Tomorrow it’s going to be 97 degrees F (36 Celsius). Yesterday it was much cooler and I had an hour to knit. Now I’m wishing I had worked on a sweater. Today I wanted to dedicate my knitting hour to the sweater but instead decided to work on another sock.

I suppose it’s fine to make socks. I’ll be ready for Fall. Besides, the pattern I’m following is pretty cool.

“Jaywalker” by Grumperina. It’s one of those patterns I’ve been thinking about making and have put off. I should have started it when I saw it! The zig-zag pattern adapts nicely to self-striping or variegated yarn. As pictured, I’m using Rowan “Fine Art,” which is a hand painted variegated yarn made of a wool, silk, and nylon blend. It looks complicated, right? It’s actually not. The main stitch pattern is a two row repeat! This will be traveling with me on the bus, train, and so on because in less than three repeats I had the stitch pattern memorized. This is a free pattern available on Ravelry. I will make these a lot in the future, I think! I have two more hanks of Rowan “Fine Art” and with one of them I wanted to make up my own sock pattern. I guess with the other I’ll be knitting some more Jaywalkers.

My very first design: Sevillian Bas-relief

I made up my own pair of socks. I call them “Sevillian Bas-relief” because I became intrigued by a photo I took in Seville of a patio inside the city’s cathedral. I asked myself “How could I knit some of those flat stone sculptures?” It took me a lot of trial and error and several sheets of graph paper to get it just right. Here’s what my socks look like:

I knit these with La lana del cigno nero “Punto,” a light DK 100% virgin wool yarn that I happen to love working with.  Using US size 0 (2mm) dpns I got a gauge of 7 stitches per inch.
The cable panel on the instep is made without a cable needle. Instead, it uses twist stitches. The heel flap is knit in eye of partridge stitch. The cuff is made with K1P1 twisted rib.
I decided to put the pattern on Ravelry. It is available for purchase for US $3 here. If you’d like more info on the pattern just follow that link. The pattern is written in both English and Spanish as is the description on the Ravelry page for the pattern. Some day I’ll make this blog bilingual as well.
I’ve learned a lot from writing up a design for the first time. First of all, I learned how to make knitting charts with Excel. I also learned a lot about knitting terms in Spanish that I did not know about. I took about a hundred different pictures and selected the best ones for the pattern, so I also learned a ton about how to photograph my knitting. Above all, I discovered that I really like the creative process of designing knitted items. I will no doubt continue to design. I had no idea I had such a creative spirit inside of me!

What to do when you inherit a lot of acrylic yarn

Every knitter probably has a story about “extra” acrylic yarn. The word “extra” here refers to coming into a whole lot of it somehow. We may have lots of acrylic yarn because we made some stuff to decorate the house and there’s quite a bit leftover. Perhaps we took a walk through a department store and couldn’t resist a certain color or texture that fascinated us and it was too cheap to resist. Maybe a neighbor or a friend gave us a whole bin of it, including acrylic yarns that no longer exist, with labels from twenty years ago. In my case, a neighbor figured out that I like to knit and gave me her yarn because she can’t knit anymore. I have a box of the stuff, in all kinds of colors.

However we came into it, though, there it is in a bin somewhere, all mixed together perhaps, ancient discontinued labels blended with newer more contemporary labels, some with no label at all because it either fell off or was misplaced when it was used and became a leftover blob of acrylic to be stashed and eventually passed on to us.

So many knitters and crocheters hate acrylic. They’re the “yarn snobs.” But even some of the acrylic haters can’t say no to a free bunch of yarn. Besides, if we don’t use it, well, eventually it will wind up in a landfill. We might as well make something and save the environment, right? Putting this material to use is much more ethical than trashing it.

I am most certainly not an acrylic hater. I have my issues with it. It’s not exactly easy to knit with. I care about the environment and have my qualms about how it’s produced and disposed of. It’s not my favorite yarn. Regardless, I am more than happy to knit with it if I have some. I just prefer knitting and crocheting with other materials. On the other hand, I have been seen buying acrylic on purpose every once in a while because, in my mind, it was the best yarn to get the job done the right way.

Anyway, what to do with this stuff?

1) Think charity knitting. Lots of places that distribute winter items to the poor actually want acrylic and might even announce this preference. Their reasoning is practical: it’s easy to store, it’s machine washable, it won’t disintegrate, and moths won’t eat it. Hats, socks, scarves, mittens, leg warmers, head warmers, ski masks, and other winter gear are often needed. We can whittle down the acrylic stash by making these items for people who will appreciate the extra warmth. Yes, we know that they won’t be as warm as if we made these things with wool, but acrylic items do provide some extra cover that people need in cold weather.

2) Pick out colors from the bin that go with your home. Think throw pillows, small throw blankets (if there’s enough for the project), and any other kind of item to decorate the house with. I’ve been lucky enough to witness an Ottoman cover, a very beautiful one, knitted with some Caron acrylic yarn. It was modern looking and stylish.

3) Use the Barbara Walker mosaic continuous strip method to make a blanket. This approach to stash busting the acrylic proves to be effective because the amounts of whatever color do not matter. The blanket is totally improvised. Mosaic patterns are added onto the blanket round and round, each with its own color pattern. My point here is to use random colors from the acrylic bin, combining them any old way to make something very busy and colorful. The instructions for this are found in her fourth volume of A Treasury of Knitting Patterns. She calls it the “Continuous Strip Mosaic Sampler.” I’ve started one with the acrylic yarn that was gifted to me and I must say that Walker was correct when she wrote that this kind of knitting requires no planning at all. I have all four volumes of her Treasury so I can randomly try a lot of her mosaic patterns and wing a big blanket in many colors. As you might have guessed, I really like to wing it and make “whatever” when I have the chance.

4) Accessories: belts, bags, wallets, beaded jewelry, slippers, etc. are handy things to make in acrylic yarn.

5) Crochet or knit a bunch of squares and assemble them to make any item (I know, not original, but it’s an idea).

6) Single crochet an afghan with randomly combined colors. Alternatively, crochet an afghan holding two strands together.

7) Baby clothes: they use small amounts of yarn — guaranteed color consistency and sufficient yarn to finish the project — and are appreciated for their easy care. These clothes will be passed around from old parents to new parents, which means that the mean old plastic doesn’t wind up polluting the planet.

For now I’ll stick with my continuous strip mosaic blanket. It’ll take forever to finish, but it’s so random that I can pick it up every once in a while, drop it for a while, and go back to it without trying to remember what I was doing. It’s fun when I finish a round because I can look through Walker’s books to find the next stitch pattern I want to add on to the blanket.

I’ve been color stranding

I’m making a pair of socks with a Fair Isle band just below the cuff. The pattern, “Solidago,” designed by Mary Jane Mucklestone, is available on Knitty for free.

Fair Isle knitting involves stranding an unused color along the wrong side of the fabric while knitting with another. This technique, often referred to as “color stranding,” is used throughout the world to create a vast array of colorful designs.

Regardless of the color pattern, whether it be Fair Isle, Latvian, or Andean, one does not carry an unused color behind more than five stitches. Some say the unused yarn should not float across the back of more than one inch of fabric. These rules are not set in stone. Longer strands can be twisted with the working color in the middle of a long float. However, if Chuck Norris finds out that you used longer strands than traditionally acceptable he will fire a rocket launcher at your house and karate chop you.

That last sentence above was a joke, by the way.

It’s been a couple of years since I’ve used this colorful technique. When I knit the first of the “Solidago” socks I remembered how this method can force the knitter to view tension in a new way. Usually, I suspect, we tend to view tension as something we must keep consistent. Working with more than one color at the same time requires us to control tension in two ways: maintain the stitch gauge and keep the floats loose enough so as not to crimp up the fabric. Stranding yarn too tightly leaves the knitted piece practically unusable and ugly.

There are also several options for holding the yarn. I think the best method is to use both the continental and the English styles. I hold one yarn in my right hand and another in my left hand and I can knit much more quickly. It is really worth the effort to learn how to knit this way. The continental style has always been my preference and I use it for color stranding, an instance in which I use two styles.

Testimonial: A few years ago I forced myself to knit some swatches to practice the English style in preparation for knitting a Fair Isle hat. Totally worth it!

Aside from figuring out how to hold the yarn and control its tension, working with strands of color also leaves us with lots of ends. When I add a new color I prefer to tie it loosely (not in a knot) with the color I was just working with. I leave a generous tail (about 3.5 to 4 inches). When I work in the round I tuck the fastidious things out of the way, pushing them down the inside of the tube, like this:

This picture shows the wrong side of the work with two colors (red and gray) loosely tied together:
When the entire piece or the colorful part of the fabric is finished the ends can be woven in. This is when I like to undo my loose ties, adjust the size of the stitches where I added in new colors, and make everything permanent with some tight knots. Then I weave in the ends. 
For a project like this, in which there is just one multicolored band, I like to weave in the ends after knitting a few rounds of solid color. This way, when I finish the project, I have fewer ends to weave in all at once!
Sometimes mistakes are discovered when the piece is finished. If this happens to you, don’t think you have to unravel the whole project to fix it. Make any repairs using duplicate stitch and no one will know about it but you. 
These are some useful links for Fair Isle knitting and color stranding: