Thursday, September 18, 2014

Blocking: Quick and Dirty No-Fail Method

Blocking is one of the things which simply transforms knits.  When people tell me they don't like the finished result of their work, my first response is always, "Did you block it?"  Simply said, blocking can really, really make your projects shine.

So I've got a tutorial for you! Here's how I block.

You will need:

  • The piece you wish to block
  • some towels
  • some water (cool, but not cold)
  • a place where the piece can dry, undisturbed
  • optional: pins
  • optional: something like Soak or Eculean if you wish for it to smell nice.  Or essential oils work too.
  • optional: things like blocking wires, pins, or in my case, a rubber band.  You'll see.
  • optional: cats to watch what you're doing (joking)
First, submerge your pieces in the water until they are completely wet.  Plant-based fibers will suck up the water right away.  Wool based fibers you might have to help a little.  I'm impatient - I squeeze the piece gently to get all the air out, because wool likes to trap air in its fibers.  Keep squeezing until no bubbles come out of your piece.  Or, you can just walk away and come back in an hour.  Both work.

Now, gently squeeze the water out of your piece.  Don't wring, just squeeze.

The next part's my favorite part.  Lay the pieces out on a towel.

Then, start jelly-rolling them in the towel.

Keep rolling.

Until it looks like this.

Now, this is the highly technical part.  I tell my students in class this, and they all laugh at me.

In your bare feet (don't do it in socks - your socks may get wet!), step on the towel.  Stand on it.  Then shift around and do it again.  You want to press ALL THE WATER OUT.

Sometimes, when I'm doing something really big, I need two or three iterations of this step - because the first towel gets SOAKED.  This case, because I was blocking a swatch and a hat, I only needed one.

When you take your pieces out, they should be damp, but not wet.

Now what happens?  Well, you have some choices.

If the piece is something flat like my swatch, all you need to do is lay it out and pat it into shape.  No need to stretch or contort the piece!

For my hat, I needed some assistance.  I needed something larger than a head, because I wanted to block this piece open and stretch things out.  I wanted the final hat to have drape and slouch.  FYI: I did the same thing with my Triple H!

So I found a bowl that stretched the hat out, but left the ribbing at rest (because I didn't want to block the ribbing out, I still wanted the ribbon stretchy).

Here's the hat stretched out over the bowl.

Still, the hat kept shifting out of place, so I figured I needed to take one step further.  I pulled the ribbing in, and held it in place with a rubber band.  Perfect!

Then I left it to dry.

For something like the Sylva Shawl, I needed to take a bit more extreme measure.  This shawl needed the lace to open up quite a bit, and I wanted to give the shawl a particular drape and swish.

So I used pins and blocking wires.

Blocking wires are great because you can bend them a little for a curved shawl like this.  See how I threaded the blocking wire through the shawl?  The pins are just holding the blocking wire in place.

This thing was big enough I didn't have anything big enough to block it on.  So I pinned directly into the mattress.  Shhhh!  Don't tell Mr. Turtle!

Sylva Shawl, all blocked out.

Thursday, September 11, 2014

Review: Sock Architecture by Laura Neel

I tweeted just when Sock Architecture came out that I was really excited about the book - just based on the glimpse of the pictures I saw on Ravelry, this book was for me.

Sock Architecture is a book that focuses on the knit socks - no adornments, just the facts.  The photography reflects this dedication: the socks, heels and other techniques are photographed against a plain white background, absent of more artistic styling.  It reads more like a textbook and less like an art book.  The pages lack a glossy texture and Neel doesn't shy away from the math.

I'm not complaining - this is the book I've been waiting for.

It embraces the math (no surprise, Neel's blog is titled Math4Knitters), and talks about socks the way I think about them - in ratios and proportions.  It doesn't dumb down the fact that knitting is a thinking person's hobby; that there has to be a part of each knitter that can see, can think, a project into existence.

I'm about halfway through my second re-read of the book, and I thought I'd make a list of my favorite parts thus far:

  • The history part of the book is short, but informative.  I now have several places where I'm going to go to do my own research.  If you have an electronic copy of the book, the links to the pieces she's talking about are great.
  • The mini-heels, demonstrating how each heel fits on the same model.  So great for a couple of reasons: acknowledges that not every heel is for every foot, and that you can substitute out one heel for another.
  • The attention to detail given to the different types of heel, toe, and sock construction.
  • The loving discussion of gussets, why they're helpful, and why you nearly always want one.
  • Several-fool proof ways of measuring feet.
Now, lest the math scare you away, the whole back of the book is filled with normal, written patterns, and many of them are very, very lovely.  My favorite is the Uncommon Dragon.

I think, if you're a dedicated sock knitter, or a sock designer, you are doing yourself a disservice to not have this book.

You can buy the book here: I bought both the e-book and the physical book.  I have no regrets.

Tuesday, September 9, 2014

From the Business Desk: Stakeholder Engagement

From the Business Desk is back.  From the Business Desk is a semi-regular series that looks at some of the important factors in running a Small Fiber Arts Business.  This feature revolves around managing the many important parties your business works with on a daily basis.

Due to the specialized nature of a fibre arts small business, you most likely are interfacing with a large number of external parties in your day to day business operations.  From suppliers and vendors to accountants and banks to individual customers, the web of interactions you weave is a significant challenge to manage for any business owner.

Complex web of your network.  Image courtesy of Wikipedia
Managing these types of interactions with all of these various individuals is key to a business's well being, as often times a business is judged by the market not by it's actual results, but by how it operates and delivers results against its' expectations.  You see this a lot of times with Fortune 500 companies where although they could show spectacularly profitable results, if these do not meet the expectations of the organization, things like it's image, reputation, clientele, or stock price can suffer. 

There are many in-depth training classes you can take from high-paid consultants on how you can accomplish this; what I'm going to do is share some high-level tips for how we at Tinking Turtle keep track of things here to best manage the expectations of all of the interrelated individuals we commonly interact with.

Constant External Communication.  Communication is absolutely tops in managing any sort of relationship that you have, be it with a vendor for ordering supplies, or a customer expecting a deliverable on a particular project.  Often times, when you know things are not going according to plan and you cannot meet a deadline, the earlier you can communicate this, the better.  That way things don't come as a shock to those impacted, and if you can both communicate the issue and what you are doing to resolve it, you can ensure your relationships are positively maintained.  Studies show that customer loyalty can actually be increased if your business takes ownership and provides an exceptional level of service in the event of a customer service issue.

Internal Communication.  If your business has more than one employee, it is vital that all of the staff are on the same page and have access to information regarding the various stakeholders that they interact with.  Nothing is more off-putting than to have an external vendor be told "I'm sorry, I don't know what you're talking about" in relation to an issue.  This could be something as simple as having a weekly staff meeting, or a common room whiteboard with a high level FYI list of things to be aware of for all of the associates to have access to.  There are also technology solutions to allow these relationships to be documented, having a CRM application is one avenue that Tinking Turtle uses, as to us, everyone we interact with from vendors to contractors to customers is tracked in our system.

Understanding Expectations.  The last item I want to stress here is the importance of actually understanding the expectations of everyone you interact with.  A classic example of this can be found in the Project Management Tire Swing analogy, which has been around for quite some time and is demonstrated in many introduction to Stakeholder Engagement classes.
The importance of understanding expectations.
By making assumptions about what is really necessary in a relationship, the chance for misscommunication is high, which then leads to situations where one party's expectations are vastly different than the other.  A good way to think about this in any interaction is to ensure that both you and the other party have clearly understood conditions of satisfaction that need to be met as part of this relationship.  In ensuring that you have established these up front, it is much easier to then set expectations, and then identify areas that can be changed as the nature of the relationship changes.

These are only a few of the ways that small businesses can work to ensure that the relationships with the many individuals and organizations with which they interact remain strong.  It is the strength of these relationship, and how engaged you are keeping all parties involve that can really be a stragic benefit to the long-term success of any fiber arts business.

Monday, September 8, 2014

A quickie Contest: Stripes Three Ways

So, trying to print off the pattern for my class on Sunday, my printer was freaking out.  After
troubleshooting for much longer than Mr. Turtle should have, we printed out some copies of the pattern that are... a little wonky.  Nothing to make them unreadable, but enough that I wouldn't feel comfortable handing them out in class, and they're nice enough I felt bad just throwing them away... dead trees!

So, our crazy printer is your gain.  I've got a quick little contest for you that'll just run the week.  They'll be 5 winners, and they'll each get 2 copies of Stripes Three Ways - one for themselves and one for a friend.  The only thing I ask is that you share your extra copy with someone who will appreciate it, and when you do knit the pattern up, you show off your finished projects on Ravelry, so I can live vicariously through you!

The contest is through Rafflecopter, below.

Share with your friends!

a Rafflecopter giveaway

Saturday, September 6, 2014

A Week ago Saturday Morning

Tea, fruit, morning reading, knitting, and sitting on the porch.

Baked goods at the Farmer's Market

The Farmer's Market, and it was still cool out.
This all contrasted with today, where I'm spending my morning driving down to DC to teach at Fibre Space, and tomorrow, the Knitting Boutique.  Very different, but both good.

Friday, September 5, 2014

I Lied, a Little

The other day I said my next post would be on the knits in Outlander, but I'm going to need a little more time than I thought.  Things are more complicated than they first seemed.


Watson Being Adorable

Watson Helping me with Paperwork

And Tea, because Fall is right around the corner!

Thursday, September 4, 2014

Outlander and Handknits Appreciation Post

I've made no secret about the fact that I love Outlander, and the other novels by Diana Gabaldon.  And I've been watching the Starz TV show of the same name since it's come out.

One of the things I love about the show?

All the handknits.

Let me show you the my favorites:

Garter Stitch Wrap

Posted by the Diana Gabaldon, of the filming: Claire's Shawl!

Bulky neckwarmer
Claire has a sleeved Shawl in Garter Stitch.

Jamie has a pair of fingerless mitts - hard to see.
Mrs. Fitz with fingerless gloves.
I have some thoughts about the show's pieces, which I'm planning on sharing tomorrow.

Stay tuned!

Wednesday, September 3, 2014

Tuesday Mash: Classes, Reading, and Halloween Ideas

First, a reminder I'm teaching a variety of classes this weekend in and around DC.  If you've been missing my smiling face, this is a good opportunity to get your Tinking Turtle Fix!  A quick rundown, excerpted from my newsletter:

Darn Those Knits is happening at Fibre Space on Saturday the 6th.
While this class is wonderful for teaching you the practical skills of learning how to repair your handknits, it also has a great side benefit: you'll have a greater understanding of know knit and purl stitches interact. You'll go home with a better understanding of the Duplicate Stitch, and even learn a great way to "hack" doing the Kitchener stitch. This class isn't only about repairing things, it's also about understanding your knitting.
Crazy Simple Lace: Hairpin Crochet is one of my favorite classes to teach for a couple of reasons. I don't get to teach crochet classes as often as I do knitting. I love how fast this scarf works up, which makes it a great gift for the holidays (which are fast approaching!). And if you've never worked hairpin lace before, you'll be shocked at how versatile it is.
This class is also happening at Fibre Space on the 6th, and would be a great way to spend your Saturday afternoon!
20140827 8647 1
Colorwork Backwards, Forwards and Sideways is my inaugural class I'll be teaching at the Knitting Boutique. I'm so excited to teach this killer class! This class features a fun pattern (exclusive to the class) to demonstrate how to do jogless stripes, work with stranded knitting, and how to use slipped stitches in stunning results!
I decided to work my sample in traditional fall colors, since cool weather is right around the corner. And this quick cowl simply flies by!

I've been gobbling up Seanan McGuire's The Winter Long, which is the 8th book in her Toby Daye Series.  I've talked about how much I enjoy Seanan's writing; so much so that the scarf I'm using to teach this weekend, One Salt Sea, is a nod to one of her books.  A mix of urban fantasy, folklore and mystery, I've been waiting the last year to read this book.  While the genre might not be everyone's cup of tea, I love the book for the strong plotted elements.  Like the Harry Potter series, or even the Outlander series, there are strong threads seeded in the first book that come to fruit in this book.  It's amazing to behold.

Now that I've read the book, I'm thinking I might just have to get the books on tape and marathon the entire series, just so I can take my time and appreciate what McGuire has been building for the last few years.

I've also been listening to a lot of other things on audio.  I've talked before about my love of RadioLab, but I've also been marathoning Welcome to Night Vale.  Night Vale is a fake radio show highlighting a rather strange town out in the middle of a desert.  Both strange and hopeful, frightening and contemplative, it's not the sort of thing I'd normally enjoy, and yet I do.

I'm actually thinking that I want to decorate my house as a tribute to Night Vale for Halloween.  As if I don't have enough to keep me busy.

What've you been up to?

Friday, August 29, 2014

Mr. Turtle Strikes Again

Let me just start this by saying that Mr. Turtle has a habit of obliviousness when it comes to fibers.  See the acrylic hotpad and the felted hat, amongst other examples.

One of the lesser joys of owning cats is cleaning out the litter box, and most days, Michael and I compete to see who has to do the job (the tradeoff is you have to feed the cats in the morning and
One of the possible suspects. We brought them in for questioning.
forgo that extra 5 minutes of sleep).  The other day the chore fell to me, I had the unfortunate surprise of realizing the cat's had left some... presents outside of the litter box, on the rug we have underneath the box to minimize the spread of cat litter.  I'll spare you the details.

Anyway, after the "presents" were taken care of, I thought it was probably a good idea to give the rug a good wash.  After all, we have an ultra-powerful washing machine and a hot water heater that has more enthusiasm than sense!

The rug had been a find from my grandmother's house, and the tag with the care instructions was long gone.  But it felt like cotton, and definitely did not feel like wool - so warm wash it was with a good dousing of soap.

In between the first wash cycle and the second (I opted for the super-wash cycle, considering I wasn't sure if it'd EVER been clean), I took a quick glance in - and it was looking OK, so I nudged the water up to hot.  I was really feeling like this thing should be boiled within an inch of it's life.  It was a sturdy rug, and I didn't know when it would be cleaned again.  Off I go back to work.

That evening before dinner, I had my hands full with a particular piece of knitting, and I remembered that the rug needed to come out of the wash.  Again, thinking it was cotton, I asked Mr. Turtle, who was heading out to the washroom anyway, to throw it in the dryer.

You can see where this story is going, can't you?

After dinner, Mr. Turtle hears the buzzer to the dryer sounding, and goes to get it out of the dryer.  Moments later, he comes back in, saying he needs my help.

My stomach sinks.  I'm thinking the same thing you are.  I'm thinking the rug was actually wool, and now it's a felted mess.


Instead, the entire dryer is blue/black.  Where there should be a white drum, there is not.

The rug, mostly in shades of yellow, black and red, REALLY did not have colorfast dye.  When I ask dear Mr. Turtle if he'd noticed as he was transferring the rug from the washer to the dryer
he said that he'd noticed some black on his hands.  He thought it was dirt. (Why a rug would be emerging from the washer dirty I have no clue... but.  I digress).

So, some helpful information for those people who have discovered their dryer has turned interesting colors, or who finds themselves with a not-so colorfast rug:

Dye can be cleaned off of a dryer with liberal application of bleach, providing you're careful about where you're inhaling.  Please do not take this as a recommendation to inhale bleach fumes while you're head is stuck in a dryer drum.  But it does work.  So next time I put white things in my dryer drum, they won't be coming away blue.  But as a note: after I finished, I wiped the drum down with a wet cloth, to make sure that I also didn't get bleach on my clothes next time I used the dryer.

Citric Acid. One of my favorite household multipurpose things.
Liberal application of citric acid (or vinegar, though you have to use a lot more) or any other household acid, though those are the two most common can help the dye become more colorfast, though you'll probably still get bleeding.  I noticed instant results.  Just to be sure, on the last wash I added Borax, to make the wash more basic.  Why?  Because overly acidic solutions over time will degrade fibers.  I just wanted to get the fibers to a more neutral Ph, because I'd washed the rug in several fairly acidic washes.

The results?  Well, the dryer is probably the most clean it's been in ages.

The rug?

The colors are more muted.  You can see in places where the flowers used to be bright red.  The yellow is definitely not yellow anymore.  But it's clean.  And really, the cat's don't care what color their rug is.

It'll do.

Wednesday, August 27, 2014

Book Review: Socks A La Carte Colorwork

Today has been the day of socks.  I had to get the knitted sample of a design I'm working on for Sockupied off by 3 - so I was knitting the afterthought heel into the sock the entire morning.  (It was in Anzula.  It wasn't exactly a hardship.)

Then, as I was working on the heel, my girlfriend Lois called with some knitting questions.  Specifically, I'd worked with her and another friend so they could each make their first pair of socks, and now Lois was getting ready to tackle her second pair.  Since working with the two ladies had been a rather informal affair, they'd gotten a sock pattern tailored specifically to them, and Lois had some questions about why I'd chosen the particular toe and heel that I'd taught them.  It led to a wonderful conversation about sock knitting philosophy, and in the course of the conversation I made a book recommendation that I'd thought I'd pass along to the rest of you!
Most of the resources I use for sock knitting that I reference nearly all the time are Knitty Articles.  Kate Atherley (who also tech edits for Knitty) has written a comprehensive primer of sock articles.  My favorites are Socks 101 and a blog post talking about foot sizing relationships.

Still, I started thinking about one of the books I used a lot when I first started knitting socks.  I ended up telling Lois about the Socks A La Carte series by Jonelle Raffino & Catherine Cade.  I own the Colorwork one, and have borrowed from the Library a few different times the other two.

What I love about these books is simple.  Remember those toys when you were a child where you could pick a head, pick a body, then pick a pair of legs?  And you could mix and match them to your heart's content?  That's this book series.  You can choose what you like from all the different patterns, mix and match, and come to the pair of socks that you like the most: with your favorite toe, heel, cuff and leg.  It's particularly delightful.

In other news, I've got some serious pattern writing to do tomorrow.  So if my blog post on Friday is light, you'll know why.  My brain will be wrung out.

Lastly, I've been having a great conversation in the Designer Forums on Ravelry about work schedules, Flow, and staying on task.  It's particularly enlightening.
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