Wednesday, May 10, 2006

I Came, I Saw, I Felted

I have just completed my first successful felting project (my first felting attempt, many years ago, having been a tragic lesson in yarn labels, specifically about that mysterious stuff called "superwash").

The story: When at home, my mother listens to books on audio all the time. I mean, *all the time.* A few years ago my stepfather had my sister-in-law make her a special little tote bag for her CD and tape players, which she carried around until it wore out. When I was home last weekend, I mentioned that I needed to run to the fabric store to get some Woolly Nylon, intending to experiment with using it as reinforcement thread for knitted socks. My mom said, "Oh, really? What a coincidence." Turns out she'd planned to have another fabric bag made, so I offered to knit her a felted one.

Having never a) felted anything successfully or b) knit a bag of any kind ever before, I decided to use up some leftover Brown Sheep Nature Spun and make the Ultimate Swatch, aka an entire prototype bag. With unusual foresight, I had accepted Vogue Knitting's free preview offer for their first Sitchionary for the sole purpose of getting the free copy of Felting on the Go. I cracked it open and absorbed certain important pieces of information, for instance the importance of knitting to a fairly open gauge, top-loading washing machines, and what does and doesn't felt (yes, yes, superwash bad, thank you).

The one thing that none of felting sources I consulted mentioned was math. Specifically, how one expanded a design proportionally so that it would shrink to the desired dimensions without one side being too long or short in relation to the others and so on. Felting is not an exact science, but I did have certain dimensional needs, and I wanted to keep the bag as compact as I could. So, math.

Now, as some of you may know, I do not have a perfect track record as a math whiz, despite the fact that I actually like math and at one point was capable of doing all that nifty calculus and whatnot. But surely I could figure out a simple ratio and plug it in, right?

Well, sorta. It only took three different formulas, two false starts, and an unfortunate height error resulting from adding said ratio to the desired value instead of dividing by it (tip: cell phone calculators are tricky with that "one extra touch on the button will radically change your result" problem). Still, no real harm done. This was one reason I wanted to knit the prototype first, after all.

I based the design on a carpet bag pattern I had bought, only much, much smaller, and it turned out to be fairly simple. I knitted a flat bottom to the dimensions of the sides, then picked up stitches around and knitted a tube until I got my desired height. The trickiest part was figuring out the strap, since I had no desire to sew one on afterwards. I did it by knitting across the short side stitches while binding off the long sides, leaving one side on holders while I knitted up the strap from the other end, then grafted it together. One piece knitting, my favorite.

I made the strap 2 inches wide, using seed stitch, and longer by the same ratio as the other bag dimensions. I learned after felting that narrow strips don't seem to shrink to the same degree as the rest of the bag, and that wider is better. Other than that, though, the bag turned out pretty much the way I wanted, so I think I can proceed to the real thing next.

I'm not sure yet what I'm going to do with the bright purple-and-green striped bag I've created. I suspect that when Boo sees it she'll decide for me.

Tuesday, May 02, 2006

Tag-Team Shawls

I finally, finally finished the Theatrical Lace shawl Friday evening (no pictures yet, because I'm still in the dark ages and have to get them developed). I'm very pleased with the way it turned out. One day I might get over the "Gosh, it looks like the picture!" phase.

Of course, finishing it left me at something of a loose end, since it was the next-to-last unfinished project lying around and I have no intention of tackling the last one yet. I dithered for a couple of days and knitted on some socks, then decided that it was time to tackle a very, very old unstarted project.

It's from the same book that the Theatrical Lace pattern came from (Best of Knitter's Shawls and Scarves), and in fact is from the same designer, Eugen Buegler. It's called Lace Dream, and is basically a shawl made using the lovely Peacock Plumes/Ostrich Feathers lace pattern. I've wanted to make it ever since I got the book, and even bought three skeins of Mountain Colors mohair years ago for it. The Mountain Colors mohair is heavier than the called-for Cascade Kid, but I wanted very badly to use the Mountain Twilight colorway for a shawl.

I swatched today, and was very, very happy with the results. The yarn is so gorgeous that it's okay that it's too dark to really emphasize the lace pattern, and in fact the lace made the colors swirl in really unexpected and beautiful ways. I'll have to do it again in another yarn if I want to appreciate the full beauty of the Peacock Plumes, but that's not really a hardship.

I just hope I bought enough yarn five years ago...