Thursday, September 23, 2010

Baby Bib - Modified Pattern

I picked up a copy of Easy Baby Knits by Claire Montgomerie at Half Priced Books a couple of years ago.  It is a compilation of patterns for clothing and accessories for babies up to 3 years old.  The designs are lovely, basic, and elegant with a classic/vintage feel.  The only negative comment that I have is that you have to be very aware of gage and double check it against the intended size of the pattern.  Of course, this could just be an issue idiosyncratic to my knitting.  I had the sizing come out a bit funky on the Overalls pattern, even though I have met gauge, and have had to frog back quite a bit to make some adjustments to get it  back on track.  Of course, it could be the yarn I chose too - Caron Simply Soft, which I am beginning to hate.  Once it is used up out of my stash, I'll never buy it again.

The second to the last pattern in this book is Special Baby Gift Bib (page 116).  It is a basic, fast, very easy knit and I love it.  It would be a wonderful first pattern for a beginner knitter.  Most people would not think to knit a bib for a gift so you know that it will be a unique handmade thing to give.  Also, if made with a standard cotton yarn like Sugar'n Cream or Peaches & Creme, this is a nice absorbent dribble catcher that covers most of baby's torso, which is the whole point.  Speaking as a mother of two, I can tell you absorbent is nice, especially during the teething phase when my little ones wore their bibs every waking moment.

Me, being me, I did not like the pattern's original hook & loop closure arrangement.  This is, strictly, a personal preference.  I am tired of having hook & loop items go through the laundry and come out stuck on to sweaters and fleece, regardless of prewash prep.  The pattern as it is looks great and the original design would cover baby's shoulders, but I just can't get past the hook & loop.  I suppose you could use a button or a snap instead but then you might loose some of the "grow-with-me" potential.  A good bib is something baby can use from birth to preschool. So I chose to get rid of the hook & loop by altering the original pattern to include I-cord ties instead.  Below are my alterations. 

I cannot, nor do I want to, reprint those parts of the pattern that I did not modify.  So you have to get your own copy of the original pattern. 


Hynek's Handmade Alterations for Claire Montgomerie's Special Baby Gift Bib

Work as directed by original pattern until you get to Row 5 of the Shape Front Neck Section.  This is the place where the front neck edge bind off is complete and the stitches for the right and left shoulders are still on the needles.  I work both sides at the same time instead of putting the right side onto stitch holder as directed.  I also used an ombre yarn instead of working stripes. 

Work both sides as follows:

Row 5 - Seed Stitch 4, K7, Seed Stitch 4
Row 6 - Seed Stitch 4, P7, Seed Stitch 4
Row 7 - Seed Stitch 4, Sl-K-psso, K3, K2tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 8 - Seed Stitch 4, P5, Seed Stitch 4
Row 9 - Seed Stitch 4, Sl-K-psso, K1, K2tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 10 - Seed Stitch 4, P3, Seed Stitch 4
Row 11 - Seed Stitch 4, K3tog, Seed Stitch 4
Row 12 - Seed Stitch all
Row 13 - K, P, K2tog, P2tog, K, P, K
Row 14 - Seed Stitch all
Row 15 - K, P, K, P2tog, K2tog
Row 16 - Seed Stitch all
Row 17 - K, P2tog, K2tog
Row 18 - Seed Stitch all
Row 19 - Seed Stitch all

Place one side on a stitch holder.  Switch the other side to 2 DPN needles and work a 3 stitch I-cord until it is 15 inches long and bind off.  Then work the other side in a 3-stitch I-cord for 15 inches and bind off.  Weave all ends.

I need to test knit it one more time to be certain of the stitch counts.  However, I think you'll get the general idea once you get it on the needles.  I tried to maintain the integrity of the seed stitch pattern border.  It turned out pretty well I think.

Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Testing Patterns and Products

Original pattern had velcro closure
I have always been a Do-It-Yourself (DIY) kind of gal. Mom started teaching me to sew and to use her sewing machine when I was around 8 years old. I started with doll's clothes and progressed to making clothes for myself. My knitting was a nice augment to my sewing. Variety is a good thing and this is a useful skill set.

Now I am beginning to branch out from using other people's patterns to making my own. I started by tinkering with existing patterns to modify them to my style and preference. Now I am starting to simply make a sketch and then pull out my calculator to figure out the number of stitches I need to cast on my needles or the yardage of material I'll need. The first few times I did this I was a little nervous about wasting my time and materials budget on something that might not work out. So I started out on things that were for use in our home: curtains for my sons' rooms, EVE pillows for Christmas, and a new sweater for an old Pooh are good examples. Every time I look at these things I see what I would change or do differently the second time around - but that is just my design process.
A new sweater for an old Pooh

There is something incredibly liberating about crafting 'without a net' and on the fly. So what if I screw up, I'll just take it apart and start over. So what if some material gets mucked up, I just add it to the scrap bag and it will get used by another project. The hard part now is to remember to journal what I do so I can write down the pattern and instructions to improve or reproduce the product. Some of these on-the-fly patterns are very spur of the moment, like my Bottle Cozy pattern, or simple experiments in texture and materials like The Ashton Hat or Lorica's Toque. However, judging from the number of hits that those particular blog pages get and the fact that some other pattern sites are beginning to link to my blog, I think I am having some small successes.
EEEVAH! for Xmas
Improvement and reproduction is the kicker in pattern development, particularly if I want to publish the pattern or a tutorial as a freebie on the blog, or maybe even begin to do pattern sales via Ravelry and Etsy, one of my goals. How many times do I need to test knit something and in how many different sizes before it's good enough to put out there for other people to use? How will my product hold up to use and wear? How much testing should I do before it's something worth selling? It's one thing to make something and give it away. It's something else entirely to sell it. I want people to get their money's worth. Then there is money itself. How do you place a value on your development time and production time? These are just a few of the cares and worries I have in selling my work and making things available on my blog.

So far, with my free patterns, I have done the test knitting myself. I would love to have a friend or family member test knit them as well but I don't see that happening in a timely enough fashion to make it a viable form of proofing prior to posting. When I get to the point of selling patterns, I'll pay for a professional technical proof reader. However, while my patterns are free, I just can't swing that; but, if I get useful feed back regarding these patterns from other knitters, I will definitely incorporate it.

Product testing is tough for me when it comes to baby things because I don't have babies any more. I do gift things but I always take any feedback I get about these gifts with a grain of salt because most people are loathe to criticize, in particular, handmade gifts. However, experience as a mom and with knitting in general has given me a good feel for what works versus what doesn't. Still, feedback is nice.

Cotton-hemp soap sack in beta testing now
Lately, I have been experimenting with non-clothing items such as reusable produce bags and home spa products. These require more product testing. I have to make sure my produce bags can be ultra light weight and still stand up to holding a bunch of broccoli. My family and I have been and will be using these beta models for awhile before I make them publicly available. I am probably going to send my cousin and my mom a couple of things to try for a while too. Product testing is a definite kink in my product release schedule of late but, hopefully, it makes for a better product.

Thursday, September 16, 2010

Yarn of Fiber... or Fiber of Yarn?

When I began knitting as a child, I loved studying how a single strand of yarn could be woven through and around itself to create texture, pattern, stretch, and shape. Even now, 26 years and millions of stitches later, I am still fascinated and amazed by this art. The history of knitting and crocheting and their predecessor arts, such as naalbinding, is very interesting.

Oetzi Iceman's Shoes

Textile development is one of the primary factors in a society's technological evolution. Anthropologists study it in detail. This study goes beyond the mere method of weaving to include the type of material of which the textile is composed. Our ancestors wore a variety of things, including be not limited to leather, assorted plants, wood, feathers, and hair. The clothing of the famous Oetzi Iceman are a nice example. Our modern textiles are not so very different from those of yesteryear, though, perhaps more refined and sometimes augmented with synthetic materials.

As a child, I was limited to the budget that my allowance, babysitting, and lawn mowing money would allow when came to buying yarn. This meant that I typically stuck with the standard Red Heart acrylic worsted yarn. I splurged on the yarn I used to knit my mom a sweater for Christmas one year. I went with Caron Dazzleaire, which seemed so much softer than the Red Heart worsted.  Mom still wears that sweater to this day.

As an environmental engineer, an eco-conscience woman, and a whole and organic foods nut, I am quite interested in natural fibers. This along with my interest in history and my knitting has led me to experiment with different yarns over the last year. My stash is developing into quite an eclectic assortment.

Synthetic Fibers

Red Heart Super Saver - 100% Acrylic

Acrylic is the modern synthetic most extensively used in yarn today. With modern spinning techniques some acrylics are very soft and comfortable to wear.  There are quite a few yarns that blend natural fibers with acrylics.  I freely admit that most of stash is acrylic or a blend which includes acrylic.  Acrylics are typically machine washable and safe to put in the dryer.  They are also hard to beat when it comes to price.

Nylon is a common addition to yarn.  It is strong, durable, and lightweight.  It also has a nice stretchy quality.  You see it in a lot of sock yarns but it's in other types of yarn as well.

Polyester is a also a common addition to yarn and is easy to care for.  The new glamour yarns and fun furs are often polyester or a blend thereof.

Caron Dazzleaire - 80% Acrylic, 20% Nylon

The use of rayon has increased over the last decade. Technically, rayon is not a synthetic because it is produced from naturally occurring polymers found in cellulose fiber. I saw a yarn this week that indicated it's rayon was produced from bamboo but really it could come from any cellulose source. It is, however, a man-made material and thus, in my mind does not qualify as natural. 

I am sure there are a plethora of other synthetics used these days but these are the ones I see the most often.

Animal Fibers

Swish Worsted - 100% Superwash Merino Wool

As a knitter, I have a great appreciation for wool. It is a truly wonderful fiber. Even the Iceman had it in his clothing; so humans have been appreciating wool for at least 5000 years. Wool is flame retardant and will keep you warm even when it wet.  As the mother of two small children, I also value machine washability and a great many wools are hand wash only, unless you are looking to felt your knitted item.  I am still experimenting with brands and types but I picked up some Knit Picks Swish Worsted, a superwash 100% merino wool, the other day and it is my new favorite.

Cashmere and mohair come from goats. They have very similar properties to wool but are more luxurious and soft. Definitely a high end yarn. You will see these included in yarn blends as well. Very nice stuff, though unfortunately I don't have any in my stash.

Silk is also at the high end of the yarn spectrum for me. So far I have not knitted with it and really haven't planned any projects for which it would be appropriate. It is supposed to be a good insulator in the winter, though I think I'll stick with wool. It's also supposed to keep you cool in the summer, so maybe I'll do a summer shell out of silk some day. At the moment, I'm too interested in exploring wool, though I have seen some silk-wool blends worth drooling over.

Alpaca, llama, camel, and angora are all wonderful fibers that are often used to create some wonderful fiber blends in yarn. Angora is a rabbit fur which has been used in yarn making for a long time. It's bunny softness is a nice mix with wool; but it's always handwash only and definitely more expensive. Though alpaca, llama, and camel have been used in textile making in their native lands for thousands of years, they are relatively new additions to the main stream international yarn market. These fibers have a hollow core which adds to their insulating value. I have an alpaca blend in my stash, that I picked up on sale, waiting to become a cabled winter cowl. It's wonderfully soft stuff.

Plant Fibers
Tahki Cotton Classic - 100% Cotton

Cotton is the most prevalent plant fiber used in textile making in the world. I admit I like knitting with cotton. I haven't experimented much with different kinds or brands of cotton but I probably will. It's just a very comfortable yarn. So far I've only used the standard Peaches & Creme and Sugar'n Cream brands in my work but I do have some Tahki Cotton Classic in my stash waiting for the right project to come along.

Linen fiber comes from the flax plant. The Egyptians used the amazing flax plant much the same way the American Plains Indian used the buffalo. No part of the plant went to waste. Thus, woven linen fabric has been around for thousands of years. I have yet to see a linen based yarn but I know it exists. Maybe some day I'll get to try it.

The Wool Peddler 100% Hemp Yarn
Hemp may just be my next favorite fiber. This much maligned plant does not deserve the odious reputation with which it has been saddled thanks to it's cousin marijuana. Hemp was once a wonderful cash crop from which an incredible number of goods were made: rope, canvas ships' sails, paper, cloth, and yarn just to name a few. Any products made from hemp sold in the USA these days are generally imported from Canada or Europe. Hemp is wonderful fiber. It is extremely durable, strong, and mildew resistant. Modern fabrics and yarn made from it are similar in texture to that of linen. So far I've only incorporated hemp twine into my knitting for home spa items. If I can find some hemp yarn that doesn't break the bank in cost, I will be knitting with it.

I am curious about bamboo. I've been drooling over some bamboo yarn I saw the other day but so far have resisted the urge to add it to my stash. It is lovely, soft, fuzzy stuff just begging to be a baby hat. Bamboo has antibacterial and ultra violet protective properties as well. The down side is that it all seems to be hand wash only and, I've heard, that it can be splitty making it more difficult to knit.

Soy is another new fiber I've read about. I have not had the opportunity to look at or feel yarn made from soy protein but it's an interesting idea and it does come from a renewal resource.

There are a whole host of other fibers available, both man-made and natural. I've even heard of people spinning their own yarn out of cat and dog hair. As my journey in knitting continues, I am certainly looking forward to trying as many different things as I can. Who knows perhaps I'll take up spinning and create my own fiber blends and yarn.