Monday, March 23, 2015

Evening on the Prairie Scarf

I'm so excited to share with you my latest design creation: my Evening on the Prairie Scarf.  This idea began with my closet transformation I'm working on.  I'll give it to you straight - I'm 33 years old and still have high school clothing in my closet.  That I wear.  All the time.  I prefer comfort, warmth, and softness.  AKA sweats.  However, I have been making a conscious effort to become more adult-like with my clothing choices lately.  Recently, Mom and I were walking through Kohls, and I had made some nice business-casual choices (yay me), and I commented that a scarf would look nice with this particular blouse.  (Hear that?  Blouse.  Not in my vocabulary, or closet, until recently.)  I went over to look at their fashion scarves, and mom said "Why not just make one yourself?".  Well duh.  Why didn't I think of that?

I started off with a stitch pattern.  I thumbed through one of my knitting stitch dictionaries, and was really drawn to the Wild Oats design.

With this stitch in mind, I drove down to my LYS, and as always, I'm drawn to variegated yarns.  Then I realized variegated would look quite nice in the Wild Oats, so I picked an earthy blue/gray/brown color.  Malabrigo Rios in colorway Playa.  Rios is 100% superwash wool - read: throw it in the washing machine.  Love that.  From the back of the yarn label: "Rio means 'river' in Spanish.  Malabrigo Rios is named after the four major rivers in Uruguay; Rio Cuareim, Rio Uruguay, Rio de la Plata, and Rio Negro.  Each river is represented by one ply.  These plies twist together like winding rivers.  Rios also signifies the yarn's washability; for millennia, rivers have provided water for washing garments."  --Isn't that fabulous?  Nature inspires me so, and I'm not the only one.

Getting back to the scarf, I knitted for a while in this pattern, loving it, but then decided I wanted to use more stitch patterns in this scarf.  And here comes the complications.  I'm somewhat new to this whole designing bit, and I guess I'm from the school of Hard Knocks, because I have to try something and look/feel it before I decide if I like it or not.  The above pattern uses cables, which nearly always draws the material inward, necessitating more stitches per inch.  When I decided to transition into the basket weave pattern (below), I had to find the right number of stitches to use in order to maintain a consistent width within the scarf. 

I am a big fan of life-lines in knitting.  Yes, they take time to place, and it's mildly annoying to do so, but if you find yourself needing to go back and undo a section, a life line will save so much time and aggravation.  Here I am placing a life-line while trying to decide how many stitches to decrease between sections.

As I pictured this scarf in my mind before starting it, I knew I wanted it knit in the round. However, with worsted yarn, a scarf would be a thick tube without anchoring one side to the other in some way. I decided on anchoring the sides together halfway through each design element - by grabbing a loop from the back side and knitting it together with the front side work. This worked great. It flattened the tube out, improving how it would lay around your neck, all while giving you a completely reversible scarf. It was a challenge, however, to describe in words how to perform the anchoring. Hopefully I eloquently and clearly described it in the pattern!

So after I figured out the right amounts of stitches to have in each pattern, it was simply a matter of finishing it out.  To finish out the ends, I wanted to add a fringe. I think it added a nice detail - visual interest. And it was so easy to do.

Technical help:  Executing the fringe
Once you've finished the scarf and woven in the ends, turn your attention to the garter borders at each end of the scarf. Decide how many fringe tassels to add on (I chose 6 per side), and also decide how long to make your fringe. I went with 12" pieces of yarn, which after folding in half, tying and trimming, it ended up 3.5-4". 

To make cutting the lengths easier, I used a template - fancy, the lid to my notions box (aka recycled lunchmeat box). 
I wrapped the yarn around 6 times, then cut along the bottom only. I then had 6 lengths of 12". 

After visually dividing up the stitches at the cast-on edge, I inserted a crochet hook into the pre-determined area, going through both sides of the scarf. 

Next, I folded those 6 lengths of yarn in half, and using my crochet hook, pulled the yarn by the loops through both sides of the work, stopping before they pull all the way through. 

Then, I inserted my fingers through the loops, grabbed the tail, and pulled them through the loop, making a slip-knot.  Pull tight. 

Repeat across the cast-on edge. You will notice that you are effectively closing the tube up, further securing its flattened shape. Once you have your evenly-spaced fringe tassels placed, repeat on the other side of the scarf: the bind-off edge. 

Then lay out your scarf on a flat, hard surface, and comb through the fringe to straighten it. 

Using a straight edge, rotary cutter, and mat, trim the ends to make a nice, even edge. 

You've done it!  Feel free to message me with questions on any of the techniques!

A special thanks to my FABULOUS sister-in-law Mandi for test knitting it for me.  She picked the lovely colorway Solis for her scarf, and opted for no fringe.

The pattern is now available to download in PDF format:

Click here for Ravelry

I so hope you enjoy the pattern!  Make sure you share your finished project photos with me! 

Sunday, March 8, 2015

Barrage of Felted Slippers

A friend of mine asked for some slippers to give as gifts, and picked this pattern.  These slippers, called French Press Felted Slippers, are my favorite sort - felted.  I made a pair of felted slippers for Chris years ago (here is a picture of them), and they are so warm.  He wears them all the time.  There are several benefits of felting.  First of all - felting is always done with natural animal fibers, and that is because (in this case) wool will shrink and mat (felt) into a dense fabric when exposed to hot water and agitation.  Generally in knitting, you avoid those conditions and wash your handknitted item in cool water with little or no agitation.  But in this case it was desired.

For these slippers, you knit the bottoms while holding 3 yarns at a time.  This makes a nice, thick sole for the slippers - able to take abuse and wear.  Then you make the sides of the slipper in two pieces.  The second nice thing about making felted items is how fast they work up.  This pattern uses size 15 needles - huge.  I knitted the pieces for each slipper in one sitting.  Here is a picture of all 6 completed pieces for a set of slippers.

Then, you seam up the slippers in a way much like that of shoe construction.  Below, I have a slipper all seamed.  You'll notice how large the slipper is - that is to allow for the shrinkage during the felting process.

A button band is knitted separately, then all pieces go into the wash.  For felting, I  place the two slippers and the two button bands into a garment bag, and toss them into the washing machine with a small amount of delicate wash soap.  I've kept a pair of the boys' old tennis shoes, which I use only in felting so they are clean ;).  They are great agitators - beating the slippers with each tumble.  So they go in too.  I turn the machine to a "sanitize" cycle, which uses the hottest water and longest wash tumble cycle.  I have a high-efficiency front loader, so I have to check the felting process frequently, as you never quite know how long it will take.  Every 5-10 minutes, I will stop the washer, take the slippers out, put my foot into them, rub them around the contours of my foot, and throw them back in.  When the pieces are the size I want, I rinse them in cool water, gravity spin them, and lay them out to dry.  A thick felted wool like this will take 2-3 days to completely dry.

After felting, my slippers and button bands looked like this:

Then came the fun part - picking out buttons.  I sat down with the boys and my huge box of buttons, and looked for matching pairs and fun colors.  I, of course, got all veto rights - because the boys wanted to pick buttons like stars, soccer balls, and gaudy 1970's pearl buttons.  After button selections were made, it's simply a matter of sewing on the button band and button.

Here's the result:  I ended up with 5 pairs, 3 in a natural marl color and 2 in "mercury".  I used a total of 7 balls of yarn to make these 5 slippers. It was a fun, satisfying and quick project!

I hope their recipients will enjoy them!  They should be warm, and cute to boot!