Friday, September 28, 2007


I'm very proud of this last baby gift: a very colorful baby blanket!
When I learned last January that my sister-in-law was pregnant, I knew I would have to come up with a very special baby blanket. I waited patiently until she made it to 12 weeks of pregnancy, but couldn't wait to buy yarn until they found out if it was a boy or a girl...

I had to decide on a color palette. I knew the baby's room would be yellow (they were not planning on repainting the room). I wanted something colorful and childlike, and no pastels. And it had to be superwash, of course... I settled on Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted and decided to try on a few colorways. I first bought it in Daffodil, which is very pretty but has too much yellow in it to be used in a yellow room... I had also bought it in Icehouse, which I ended up using for a baby surprise jacket. But what I finally settled on is the Rainbow colorway... isn't it nice and bright? And appropriate for a girl or a boy! So I went back to Acorn Street and bought a whole bag of it...

I remembered seeing a pattern for a knitted baby blanket awhile back that made an impression: the Northern Lights Nursing Blanket, by Handmaiden. (Fleece Artist does a full size version.) I really liked the idea of corner blocks knitted from variegated yarns all assembled together, but I was worried that knitting such a blanket would take forever... so I decided to make a crocheted blanket loosely inspired by the Northern Lights blanket.

I found a crochet block pattern in Jan Eaton's 200 Crochet Blocks . I used pattern #21 (page 44), made up of single crochet stitches. Because I was using variegated yarn, I only used that one yarn for the whole block (no stripes).

I crocheted about 6 blocks between April and the beginning of September 2007. I had other projects going, and was somehow convinced I had plenty of time left to finish the blanket in time for my sister-in-law's due date on September 29. Lo and behold, my nephew was born early on September 4! I had my work cut out for me... My friend Emily was nice enough to let me use her swift and ballwinder to wind the 9 remaining skeins, thereby saving me hours of doing it by hand... From September 5 to September 20, I averaged 2 blocks a day.

I had originally planned on making 48 blocks for a 6 x 8 blanket, but when I got to about 30 squares I realized that 5 x 7 was plenty big for a baby blanket. I started mist-blocking and sewing up the squares as I crocheted the last few ones. When I traveled to see my new nephew, I sewed squares during my layover at the airport (the last one had been blocked that morning). Final sewing took place on site, as well as the two rounds of single crochet edging. One final wet-blocking of the finished blanket, and voila! A psychedelic baby blanket for my very cute new nephew...

Pattern: my own, using block pattern #21 from Jan Eaton's 200 blocks. Same block repeated 35 times, assembled in a 5 x 7 rectangle, and finished with 2 rounds of single crochet edging (single, half-double, single in each corner)
Inspiration: Handmaiden's Northern Lights Nursing Blanket
Yarn: Lorna's Laces Shepherd Worsted in Rainbow 601 (9 skeins, with leftovers)
Hook: H/8 (5.00 mm)
Started: April 2007
Finished: September 25, 2007

Thursday, September 13, 2007


It wasn't supposed to be a baby hat, I swear... I bought some Misti Alpaca worsted from Little Knits last spring. One of the colors was described as "Copenhagen Blue". It reminded me of a friend of mine who wanted to buy a new outfit for a conference in Copenhagen. We spent the whole day shopping for a "Copenhagen Blue" suit. Her birthday is in September, and so I bought the yarn planning to make her a birthday present with it. I had just knit mittens for another friend of mine, so at first I was planning to make another pair of mittens. Hard to resist after using Latvian Mittens, by Lizbeth Upitis. But my friend has the nasty habit of losing her gloves repeatedly every winter... I suspected the same fate would await any mittens I would knit. I had to come up with a different idea. I started looking for hat patterns and eventually stumbled upon the Red Light Special, on Brooklyn Tweed's blog. I had never heard of Brooklyn Tweed's blog before, but I've been reading it ever since. He's a gifted knitter, and his pictures are inspiring...

So, I decided I would knit a Red Light Special Hat for my friend, printed the pattern, put it in a ziploc bag with the yarn, and put it in the "queue". Since her birthday is in early September, I put aside the baby blanket I was working on (more on that later) to knit the hat. I swatched, and got gauge (I swear!) with US 4 needles. I proceeded to knit the lining with US 2 needles, switched to US4 needles when I got to the main pattern and knitted along, admiring the lovely fair-isle pattern as it appeared under my fingers. When I joined the lining to the outside part of the hat, I began to worry. The hat seemed small. I somehow convinced myself that it was because it was still on the needles, and that it would get bigger once I blocked it... Ah! Denial is a strong thing. The finished product is lovely, but has a circumference of about 50cm (not quite 20 inches). There's no way it would fit an adult-sized head! I gave it to my friend Nora, and it's just the right size for her 9-month old son... He seems to like it, and the color brings out his blue eyes. All's well that ends well: she's happy to have a nice handknit hat for her son, and the product of my hard work doesn't go unused... My mistake seems to be that I swatched in stockinette stitch using only the main color yarn, not in fair-isle pattern. It seems that I knit more tightly in fair-isle. I guess that shouldn't be surprising.

Pattern: Red Light Special Hat, by Brooklyn Tweed
My only modification is 1 row of MC between the "turning row" and the beginning of the pattern chart.
Yarn: Misti Alpaca Worsted (100% Baby Alpaca) in 6309 (MC, described by Little Knits as "Copenhagen Blue", but actually "Ocean Mist Teal"), 3620 (CC1, "Scarlet"), 2915 (CC2, "Tangerine"), and 7238 (CC3, "Chartreuse Melange"). The lining is Classic Elite Premiere (50% Pima Cotton, 50% Tencel) in color 5258 ("Twizzler"), bought at Weaving Works. This cotton/tencel lining is so soft, and not at all itchy!
Needles:Prym US4 (3.5 mm), 16'' for the main body, and Addi Turbo US2 (3.0mm) 16'' for the lining. Crown finished using Susan Bates DPNs size US4 (3.5 mm)
Started: August 16, 2007
Finished: August 30, 2007

I've decide this hat is a "prototype" for the hat I intended to knit. I just need to figure out which needle size to use, and I'll knit an adult-sized hat for my friend's birthday. It will now have to be a belated b-day gift... (The baby blanket is #1 priority right now: my nephew was born last week, and was not expected until the end of September... I have a lot of catching up to do!)

Saturday, September 8, 2007

Experiment in natural dyeing

When my friend Emily mentioned earlier this year that blackberries could be used to dye yarn, I knew it was something I'd like to try. Another friend of mine has wild blackberries overtaking her garden in August every year. They grow faster than anyone could eat them. I made lots of blackberry jam last summer (in fact I still have a few jars left). So this year, when blackberry season started in early August, Emily and I set out to dye some yarn. Using her copy of Wild Color by Jenny Dean and Karen Diadick Casselman, we figured out what we needed. We went to our LYS (Weaving Works). I picked some thick/thin wool yarn (hopefully enough for a scarf) and Emily chose two skeins of fingering weight merino. I also decided to dye some leftover ivory-colored Cascade 220. We were dying about a pound of fiber.

First step, soaking the yarn in water for over an hour. Then, I prepared a mordant solution with alum 8% and cream of tartar 7%. I boiled the yarn for a good 45 minutes, and then let it soak overnight in the mordant solution. The next day, I picked about 3 pounds of blackberries (I didn't realize how heavy blackberries were!). We only needed a pound of blackberries for our dye bath. I boiled the blackberries and strained them to get the deep pink blackberry juice. We rinsed the yarn thoroughly and put it back in the pot with fresh water and all the blackberry juice. We let this simmer for about 40 minutes, then let it cool a little. At that point, the yarn was a pinkish mauve.
We had to let the yarn sit in the blackberry dye bath overnight, so we divided it in two so that Emily could bring her yarn back home with her. I rinsed my yarn out the next morning and hung it to dry. Emily waited until the next night to rinse hers. We decide against the iron treatment, because iron solutions are somewhat toxic and need to be disposed of as hazardous waste. We didn't want to deal with any of that. After rinsing and drying off, my yarn ended up a pale lavender.

The Cascade 220 actually a little darker shade than the untreated yarn. Emily's yarn is also a different shade, somewhere in between.

The color looks slightly different depending on the lighting, ranging from a dusky grey to a very light mauve. The mordant is supposed to help stabilize the color, so it won't fade over time. I guess we'll have to wait to see how well the color holds up...
I think the thick/thin yarn will make a nice scarf. I'm not sure how I'll use the Cascade 220 yet. It'll have to be something quite small, or maybe part of a fair-isle project.