Category Archives for "Fridays with Franklin"

3 Fridays with Franklin – Adventure in the Bathroom, Conclusion

fwf-logo-v1For an introduction to this ongoing series, click here. 

For the first part of this adventure, click here. 

The bath strap I crocheted from Rub-a-Dub not only survived the practical shower test, but became a pleasant part of my daily scrub.

Meanwhile, all those unexciting rows of double crochet had whet my appetite for something slightly more elaborate. Something so ubiquitous in the crochet world that it could fairly be called iconic. Something I’d tried before without much success.

A granny square.

Do I really have to explain to anyone in the universe what a granny square is? It may well be the most famous needlework motif ever created.

At its most basic, it looks like this.

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It grows from the center, in a single piece, in rounds that alternate open and closed spaces. In spite of being worked in rounds, it comes out (as you will have noted) square.

Previous forays into crochet had led me to the foothills of the granny square, but I’d never achieved the summit. Without a proper teacher, I fell back upon the usual modern pick-and-mix of print and online tutorials.

All of them were slightly different. It was maddening. One tutorial said you must turn a corner with three chains. The next said you must do it with two. One began a new round by creeping forward with slip stitches. The next said anyone who would do such a thing should be run out of town on a rail.

Which was the right way?

I have since learned that of course there is no right way. Granny square recipes are like recipes for cornbread or pie crust. Everyone who loves to make them has a pet method in which s/he firmly believes. Arguments over which reigns supreme are at best fruitless, and at worst end in violence.

Only after much frustration and many hilariously unsquare squares did I at last feel that I could produce an acceptable specimen. More importantly, all the fumbling, fuming, and fulminating had at last helped me to understand the underlying structure.

Does that make you giggle–the idea of something as mundane as a granny square having an underlying structure? I don’t blame you. It sounds impossibly pompous.

But that’s how I work. When playing with a new technique, I aim to get beyond the what–the basic mechanics–to the how, and ultimately the how else and the what else.

It’s not everyone’s cup of tea, I know. If it’s not yours, I won’t think less of you. However, I will point out that developing a close knowledge of technique:

  1. Allows you, in time, to leave patterns behind and produce truly original work;
  2. Makes you better at spotting and fixing mistakes, which is nice for those of us who make a lot of mistakes.

With that in mind, here’s a detailed sketch of how I, at last, puzzled out the structure of the granny square for myself.

The Ingredients

Crochet teachers I have met (where were you when I needed you?) tell me the granny square is often the first motif a new crocheter is taught. No wonder, as it does amazing things with a tiny toolkit of only four maneuvers.

They are…

  • the slip knot or slip loop, indicated in standard crochet charts with a black oval.

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  • the chain stitch, indicated by white oval.

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  • the slip stitch, indicated by a tiny frown.

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and of course, in the leading role, the double crochet stitch.

The symbol for double crochet is based upon the symbol for half-double crochet, which looks like a tall capital T,

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because T is for “crochet.”

The difference between the half-double and double crochet symbols is the single slash mark through the stem of the T,

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because one is for “double.”*

The half-double crochet doesn’t appear in a standard granny square. The other four are among the most fundamental skills in crochet; and they’re all you need.

The Principles

A granny square is built according to a tidy quintet of fundamental rules.

They are…

  1. Closed spaces (blocks) alternate with open spaces.
  2. Blocks and open spaces alternate from round to round.
  3. A block is made of three double crochet. Exception: the first block of a round substitutes a chain 3 for the first double crochet.
  4. Corners are always worked into corners.
  5. Rounds 2 and higher always begin at a corner.

Let’s put these to work and make a square.

The Recipe, Part I: the First Round

Start with the slip knot.

It’s the same slip knot that starts many a piece of knitting; but crochet, unlike knitting, does not count the slip knot as a stitch. Perhaps for this reason, the slip knot doesn’t appear on many charts–the designer just assumes you’ll know it’s there.

Next, work six chain stitches (figure 1)…

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…and join the slip knot to the final chain with a slip stitch, creating a ring.

Now, begin the round. This round sets up everything that follows, so take care to do it properly.

We will make four blocks, and these four blocks will be separated by four open corners.

For Block One, begin with a chain three.

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Then work two double crochet, right into the ring. The block will look like this.

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In Round One, every block is followed by an open corner. To make an open corner, chain two.

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(In the chart these chains don’t appear to be connected; but of course they are.)

In Round One, every corner is followed by a block made of three double crochet. Make your next block.

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What always follows a block? An open corner–chain two.

Then make the third block, then the third corner, then the fourth block, then the fourth corner.

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That’s our completed Round One. Four blocks, separated by four open corners. You haven’t yet joined the end of the round to the beginning, but we’re about to do that. Hang on.

The Recipe, Part II: All the Other Rounds

Some of the granny square tutorials I consulted ran on for upwards of 5,000 words, giving separate round-by-round instructions for the second, third, fourth, fifth, sixth, and sometimes even seventh rounds.

But here’s the thing: after round one, all subsequent rounds follow the same steps.

Rounds Two and up all begin by closing the previous round and scooching to the nearest corner.  This is done with four slip stitches.

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The first slip stitch–into the top of the chain of the first block in the previous round–closes the old round.

The second and third slip stitches–into the tops of the two double crochet of the first block of the previous round–move us closer to the corner where the new round begins.

The fourth slip stitch–into the opening of the first corner of the previous round–gets us perfectly into position for the next round.

As you work the round, with every step you’ll ask yourself three simple questions.

If the answer to a question is No, move to the next question. If the answer is Yes, follow the instructions.

Question 1: Am I at a corner?

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If yes, work a corner unit (Figure 8) as follows.

  1. Three double crochet into the hole of the corner below. Exception: for the first block of the first corner in a round, substitute chain 3 for the first double crochet.
  2. Chain two.
  3. Three double crochet into the hole of the corner below.

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Question 2: Is there a block in the round below?

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If yes, work an open space: chain 2.

Question 3: Is there a hole in the round below?

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If yes, work a block: three double crochet into the hole.

After working a step, go back to Question 1. Continue until your round is complete.

Upon reaching the end of a round, close it and scooch to the beginning of the next round with slip stitches as described above.

When you feel your square is big enough–it could, theoretically, go on forever–end with the slip stitch that closes the final round.

Little Quibbles and Bigger Ideas

Because the granny square has so many variations, some who have made it this far are rolling their eyes and/or gnashing their teeth. They may believe, for example, that a space between blocks is one chain, not two. They may feel sure that the chain in the first block of a round is not three chains, but one. And so forth.

They are right, and I am right, and you are right, and we are all right. The variations seem mainly to address differences in gauge and desired effect (some squares are very lacy and open, some less so).

If you’re not getting what you want, play with what you’re doing. Take notes, judge the work in progress, and adjust accordingly.

Keep in mind that we’ve still only made the simplest possible square. We haven’t played with shape or scale. We haven’t even mentioned changing colors.

Such potential, so many further adventures, all arising from the magic mix of four maneuvers with five principles.

But that’s for another Friday.

Back to the Bathroom

For now, I’d like to show you why I was excited to take my remaining supply of Rub-a-Dub and turn it into granny squares. I do believe I’ve stumbled onto the solution to a universal dilemma.

You know how sometimes, at the end of a long and tiresome day, you find yourself thinking, “Gee, I’d sure love to curl up on the sofa under something soft and warm and read a good book?”.

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But then you think, “On the other hand, wouldn’t it be awfully swell to climb into a warm bath and read a good book?”.

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How the heck do you choose?

18

Now you don’t have to…

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with the amazing…

Bath-ghan!

20

Yes, the amazing Bath-ghan combines the cuddly joy of chillin’ on the sofa with the relaxing warmth of time in the tub.

And on really bad days, you can soak away stress and block out the world completely.

skacel-c8-23

I used a 12 mm hook and worked each square for three rounds; then joined them with whipstitch. At my gauge, each square weighs in at about two ounces, so a skein of Rub-a-Dub will squeak out three big (BIG) squares.

Whaddaya think? Pretty cool, eh?

Eh? Eh?

No?

Aw, heck.

If you don’t like that idea…it does make a wonderful bath mat.

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It’s been a long week. I’m heading for the tub.

The next adventure will begin in two weeks.

*Dear Maggie Righetti explains in Crocheting in Plain English that the slash represents the single yarn-over-hook with which the stitch begins. I wish I’d learned that sooner.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Hikoo Rub-a-Dub: 100% Microfiber; 108 yd/200g per ball

Premium Crochet Hook (12 mm) by addi®

Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1988)

About Franklin Habit

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

Fridays with Franklin: Adventure in the Bathroom, Part One

fwf-logo-v1For an introduction to this ongoing series, click here.

In my long and rather checkered career I have often encountered yarns that made me gasp, yarns that made me sigh, yarns that made me recoil in fright and bewilderment. Now I’ve found a yarn that makes me giggle.

A couple months ago I got a call from a buddy at Skacel.

“Whatcha up to?” he said.

“Watching NOVA,” I said. “They’re talking about mummies.”

“Ah. Well, I don’t want to interrupt the party, but are you interested in trying a new yarn? One hundred percent microfiber. Absorbent, durable. Fluffy. Soft. You can machine wash it, you can bleach it. Pretty wild.”

“I’m not sure,” I said. “Wild isn’t my thing, remember? You were there when I passed out from doing double treble crochet.”

“You don’t have to go crazy. Just give it a shot. It’s called Rub-a-Dub.”

“Rub-a-Dub?”

“Are you giggling?”

“…No.”

“Yes you are. I can hear you.”

“That’s the television.”

“There’s no giggling on NOVA.”

“Seriously–Rub-a-Dub?”

“I’m putting it in the mail,” he said. “When you’ve pulled yourself together maybe you do something cute with it.”

“Rub-a-Dub-Dub!” I giggled. “Knit a sub in your tub!”

He hung up.

Meet the Yarn

Here’s what I got. Big, bouncy white bundles that look more like cartoons of  skeins of yarn than actual skeins of yarn.

1

HiKoo Rub-a-Dub is squishy. When you wind it, it makes a ball as big as your face.

2

As the name (giggle) suggests, it was made with applications for the bath (and other soggy venues) in mind. There are two free patterns (a bath mitt and a washcloth) inside the band.

The bath mitt pattern reminded me of a fellow I used to see in the locker room at the Harvard Club in Boston from time to time. He was more active than the mummies on NOVA, but equally a relic of a bygone era. I found the trappings of his Jazz Age masculinity fascinating. He used pomade on his hair, Bay Rum on his face, and a bath strap on his–well, on the rest of him.

In case you’re unfamiliar with the concept of a bath strap, it looks something like this.

3

You hold the handles and drag the strap back and forth across those hard-to-reach places. Store-bought bath straps are often made from something like sisal, which gently exfoliates your skin in rather the same way that the pagans gently exfoliated St. Bartholomew (look it up).

I fancied I could use Rub-a-Dub to make up my own bath strap.

Knitting or Crochet?

My first thought was to knit it. Knitting is my comfort zone. I’ve knit washcloths.

But a bath strap is used differently than a washcloth. You don’t bunch it up and rub it around, you grab the ends and pull it tight. To work properly, it must withstand tugging and pulling without stretching out of shape.

Crochet stretches; however, when yarn and gauge are equivalent, crochet stretches less than knitting. As I fancied practicing my crochet skills, that settled the question.

Research and Development

This is my incredibly thoughtful preliminary sketch.

4

Laugh, if you will; but I sketch out even quite simple projects. Sketching is a first go at giving an airy nothing some physical form. It forces me to consider proportions, edges, boundaries, structures. As I draw what I want to make, I think about how I’d like to make it. Can it be done in one piece? If so, where best to begin? Where will I end? Can I get there from here?

I figured the finished length by extending a tape measure behind my back until it was just about right for effective scrubbing. I left the width an open question until I’d finished swatching.

Rub-a-Dub is fluffy as a freshly blow-dried cat, so I selected a bunch of crochet hooks from the fatter end of my collection

5

and got down to it.

The whole swatch is in double crochet, because it’s the stitch I’ve worked the most so I could remember how to do it without looking it up.

6

The smallest hook (9 mm) gave me a fabric that was acceptable, but tough to work–the yarn wasn’t sliding readily through the loops. The largest hooks (12 and 15 mm) gave me a fabric that was too open–sloppy and loose.

In between was the 10 mm, which cranked out a good fabric. It also, being made of metal, slipped pleasantly through the yarn.

Just for the ducks of it, I did try out a smaller (6 mm) hook to see what would happen.

7

It wasn’t a success. The hook had trouble grabbing and holding the strand; working a single row took ages. And the smaller stitches were so compressed that the fabric turned hard and unpleasantly lumpy. Clearly, Rub-a-Dub (giggle) is a yarn that needs room to breathe.

The Pattern

If the following pattern for a crocheted bath strap doesn’t seem like much of a pattern, that’s because I’m not much of a crocheter. I love crochet, I’m just not too good at it yet.

On the other hand, the strap employs all four maneuvers I can do without referring to Maggie Righetti’s Crocheting in Plain English. When you look at it that way, it’s kind of a tour-de-force.

So…

Fetch yourself a skein of Rub-a-Dub and a US Size N (10 mm) crochet hook. You may need to use a hook that’s smaller or larger. Gauge isn’t vital, but you don’t want the strap to be stiff as cardboard or loose as fishnet.

Ch 20, with sl st join into ring.

Sl st into 9 chains to form first handle.

Ch 3 (counts as first dbl crochet from now on), dbl crochet into remaining 10 chains.

*  Ch 3, turn work, dbl crochet into back loop only of next 10.  (11 stitches total) Note: Working only into the back loops on every row creates a slightly corrugated fabric, which feels nice against the skin.

Rep from * until strap is 25 inches long (or desired length) not including handle.

Ch 9. With sl st, join chain to opposite corner of strap.

Turn work, sl st into all chains to complete second handle.

Cut working yarn and weave in ends.

Scrub-a-dub-dub.

8

The End?

The only thing left to do was a practical test, so I headed for the shower. I was delighted. Soap, hot water, vigorous friction, and the yarn didn’t snap or shed or otherwise misbehave. Hanging in the shower, it dried almost completely within an hour or so.

However, the bath strap had used only about half the ball, leaving me with a quantity of unused Rub-a-Dub (giggle) still sitting around.

That would not do.

And that’s when…the idea hit me.

The next part of this adventure will appear in two weeks.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Hikoo Rub-a-Dub: 100% Microfiber; 108 yd/200 g per ball

Premium Crochet Hooks by Addi

Crocheting in Plain English by Maggie Righetti (St. Martin’s Griffin, 1988)

About Franklin Habit

Designer, teacher, author and illustrator Franklin Habit is the author of It Itches: A Stash of Knitting Cartoons (Interweave Press, 2008) and proprietor of The Panopticon, one of the most popular knitting blogs on the Internet. On an average day, upwards of 2,500 readers worldwide drop in for a mix of essays, cartoons, and the continuing adventures of Dolores the Sheep.

Franklin’s varied experience in the fiber world includes contributions of writing and design to Vogue Knitting, Yarn Market News, Interweave Knits, Interweave Crochet, PieceWork, Twist Collective; and a regular columns and cartoons for Knitty.com, PLY Magazine, Lion Brand Yarns, and Skacel Collection. Many of his independently published designs are available via Ravelry.com.

He travels constantly to teach knitters at shops and guilds across the country and internationally; and has been a popular member of the faculties of such festivals as Vogue Knitting Live!, STITCHES Events, Squam Arts Workshops, Sock Summit, and the Madrona Fiber Arts Winter Retreat.

Franklin lives in Chicago, Illinois, cohabiting shamelessly with 15,000 books, a Schacht spinning wheel, two looms, and a colony of yarn that multiplies whenever his back is turned.

1 Fridays with Franklin – The Adventure of the Scarf That Ate the World, Part Two

fwf-logo-v1For an introduction to this ongoing series, click here.
For the first part of this adventure, click here.

So, I wanted to weave a patterned scarf on my rigid heddle loom. Weaving does not begin with weaving. Weaving begins with warping. You cannot weave until your loom is dressed in its full and correct complement of warp threads.

Warping has a grim reputation, even among some dedicated weavers. It is painstaking, slow, sometimes back-breaking work. There are many steps. If you fail to do any of them correctly, your fabric will not come out as intended. Putting on the warp for a substantial length of cloth may take anywhere from several hours to several days.* I suspect warping to be the reason for nine-tenths of the “Loom for Sale, Never Used” ads on Craigslist.

This gave me pause as I stood looking at the naked loom. Should I chicken out and just knit something? No. I might wind up strangled in my own yarn, but I wasn’t going to give in without a fight.

Destination: Windowpane Scarf

My guide and inspiration was Jane Patrick (creative director for Schacht Spindle Company, which makes the Cricket) via her fantastic The Weaver’s Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom (Interweave Press, 2010).On page 121 are a pair of “Windowpane Effect” fabrics that caught my eye. One of these, Jane notes, “would be quite effective for a jacket pattern. Think Chanel.”01I’m a red-blooded American male. You don’t have to tell me twice to think Chanel.The fabric as Jane designed it requires three colors, and I had to hand three emphatically gorgeous colors of Hikoo Rylie–Periwinkle, Freesia, and Guava.02

Seemed like a good bet. Two cool colors for a muted background, with a closely-related warm color, Guava, for the eye-catching windowpane.Moreover, I like scarves that drape. Rylie is made from three fibers–baby alpaca, silk, and linen–that are famous for drape. The yarn is soft, strong, and lustrous into the bargain. Perfect.Jane Patrick provides a crystal-clear warp threading color chart for the fabric. I set out to follow it to the letter. That seemed like plan enough for me.

Getting Excited

I wrote above that weaving doesn’t begin with weaving, it begins with warping. However, some would say that weaving truly begins with a worksheet full of careful calculations. Those people are right, and I need to learn from them.

This was not my first go at a rigid heddle scarf. I’d made three, but all were extremely simple and wholly improvisational. When warping, I’d had no clear target. I put threads on willy-nilly and started weaving.

In following Jane’s recipe, I intended no alterations aside from a few extra strands of Guava at each selvedge. These would, I assumed, provide a handsome and stable border of plain weave to set off the windowpane. Notice that word: assumed.

Jane says a great many wise things in her book. What she says most is, “Sample!”. Weaving samples in the weaver’s equivalent of a knitter’s swatching, and it’s every bit as vital.Did I sample? I did not. I was excited, you see.

I was so excited that I did not sit down and use readily available, simple, time-tested weaver’s calculations to figure out how long my warp ought to be, and how much of each weft color I would require.

I did not then warp a small amount according to the plan, and upon it weave a sample and see if I liked the design and the fabric. Because I was excited.

You know how in this column I went on and on about how much I love to swatch and how important swatching is? Yeah, well…I didn’t swatch.

Getting Warped

One of the benefits of a rigid heddle loom is that it’s easy to warp.

You can, if you like, warp it much as you would warp a multi-harness loom. This usually involves a warping board, carefully placed warp ties, warping sticks, and other baggage that allows you to keep your many threads in order. The process pretty much forces you to think ahead. If you don’t, you aren’t going to get far.

The rigid heddle allows for a clever, simple method called “direct warping.” Direct warping is so within the grasp of even the newest weaver that Schacht includes thorough, brief instructions with the loom itself. Jane also illustrates the steps in The Weaver’s Idea Book.

With this technique, you can put on a simple warp in forty minutes or less. No joke.

And because it is so simple, direct warping doesn’t absolutely require the planning and forethought that go into dressing a multi-harness loom. This isn’t to say you shouldn’t still have a carefully considered plan; but you don’t have to. And I didn’t.***

I’m not going to take you through every step of direct warping here, as it’s so well detailed elsewhere. I’ll just point out that the very ease and speed, combined with my eager nature, led me to do something with my warp that I should not have done: I decided to just wing it.

Here are a couple of highlights.Direct warping doesn’t need a separate warping board or similar apparatus to measure the length of your threads. That’s great news if, like me, you live in a small space. In direct warping, it’s the distance between the loom itself and a single peg, attached to some surface in the vicinity, that determines how long your warp will be.

As I hadn’t considered properly how long to make my threads, I guessed.****

I moved the little table containing the peg further and further away from the big table containing the loom until the distance between seemed to be about right. About right for what? For a long scarf. How long a scarf? What an excellent question!03If you are striping your warp with narrow stripes, as I was, direct warping will in theory allow you to carry the different yarns along, rather than cutting and re-joining them for each stripe. However, if your yarn tends to stick to itself when strands rub against one another, this happens:04I realized pretty quickly that with Rylie, I’d do better to cut and tie off each stripe. You can see in this shot of the back apron rod, where I made the change. A small detail, but giving up the short cut quadrupled my speed and eliminated my frustration.05Mind you, this is not a flaw in the yarn. It’s simply the nature of it. In all the arts, there is a universal truth: you either acknowledge the nature of your materials and adjust your technique accordingly; or you can forge ahead in denial, and suffer.

So I pressed on, slot by slot. When the threading was complete, I found myself deeply in love with the Rapunzel ponytail that I’d created. It seemed like a lot of yarn. An awful lot of yarn.***** But it was pretty.06Two hours later, after tying on to the front rod, your threads are at last in their proper order. The colors of the Rylie, lined up next to one another, transformed from merely glowing to absolutely radiant.Things began to look truly promising.

Will the promise be realized? See you in two weeks.

*Knitters, keep that in mind next time you grouse about having to cast on two hundred stitches.

**This will come back to haunt me.

***This will come back to haunt me.

****This will come back to haunt me.

*****This will come back to haunt me.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

The Weaver’s Idea Book: Creative Cloth on a Rigid Heddle Loom by Jane Patrick (Interweave Press, 2010)

Hikoo Rylie: 50% baby alpaca, 25% mulberry silk, 25% linen; 274 yd/100 g per ball; colors: Periwinkle, Freesia, Guava

Schacht Cricket Fifteen Inch Rigid Heddle Loom by Schacht Spindle Company

4 Fridays with Franklin – The Adventure of the Scarf That Ate the World, Part One

fwf-logo-v1

I cannot tell you how many times I said to anyone who would listen that knitting was quite enough. I had no need or desire, I said, to learn to spin. Then I made friends with an accomplished spinner. Now I spin.

Then I said to anyone who would listen that knitting and spinning were plenty for one man, thank you, and I had no intention of learning to weave.  Then I made friends with a master weaver. Want to guess what happened?

Our next adventure is weaving.

Disclaimers

Before we jump in, two things.

Thing One: Don’t stop reading this because you don’t have space for a loom. Neither do I. We’ll address that right off the bat.

Thing Two: I have only the barest idea what I am doing here. I weave, I have woven, I will weave. What I am not yet able to say with a straight face is I am a weaver. I’m a fledgling, fumbling along mostly on my own with help from books and the aforementioned master weaver, who lives several hundred miles away.

My mistakes (they are legion) will be on full display. Take everything I write for what it is–the hopeful fumbling of an enamored amateur. But also keep in mind that if I can do this, so can you.

These Fridays are supposed to be about setting out for new horizons–so off we go.

The Question of the Loom

I avoided weaving for years largely because I didn’t think I could accommodate the furniture. I live in a city apartment. It’s big enough for most practical purposes, but–a loom? Are you kidding me? You’ve seen looms, right? I had seen looms, in those gorgeous, grim paintings by Van Gogh.

Van Gough

“Vincent Van Gogh, Weaver Facing Right (1884). Private collection.”

That guy is sitting inside the loom. By my calculations, it has roughly the same footprint as a Toyota Camry.

I knew there were smaller looms, but assumed (with an ignorance of which I am now ashamed) that you couldn’t do anything interesting on them. Simple weaving? Bah. I’d been a Boy Scout, I’d gone to camp, I’d made potholders. I was not interested in doing that again.

Then, as sometimes happens, a rigid heddle loom–a Schacht Cricket–arrived in the mail.

Meet the Loom

This is a completely naked Schacht Cricket. It’s the big one, with fifteen inches of weaving width. There’s a ten-inch size, too.  Both are smaller than a Toyota Camry.

Cricket

It doesn’t look like much, does it? What kind of weaving can you do on that?

A full-length introduction to rigid heddle weaving is beyond the scope of this column–and beyond the scope of my expertise. But for those who are not weavers (yet), here’s what you need to know to follow along.

The picket fence thing that’s sitting in the loom frame

Reed

is called the reed, and the little slats inside it are called heddles. Notice that you have slots between the heddles, and that each of the heddles has a little hole in the center. That’s going to be very important.

ReedClose

A rigid heddle loom like the Cricket has three notches that allow you to park the reed in three different places: up, down, and neutral.

Labels

How the Loom Works

Before we can weave, we have to put something on the loom to weave into.  That something is an organized array of strings called the warp.

I’ll talk about the process of putting on the warp (more elegantly referred to as “dressing the loom”) later on. For now, I want to show you what happens with the warp once it’s in place.

Notice (you’ll have to look closely) that in this little sample warp, each of the holes in the reed has a strand of red running through it, and each of the slots has a strand of blue running through it.

Neutral with yarn

That’s a shot of the warp with the reed in the “neutral” position. All the threads are roughly level with one another. That poses a question. If the warp is the thing we weave into, how exactly do we do that? What path does our weaving yarn–which is called the weft–take through the warp?

To find our path, we move the reed into the “up” position and–voilà–all the red threads move up, creating a neat little tunnel (called the shed) for our weft yarn to pass through.

Up with Yarn

After one pass of the weft through this shed (that’s called a pick), we move the reed to the “down” position, and look what happens.

Down with Yarn

The threads have changed places. The blue threads are up, the red are down.  The change in the position of the reed has changed the shed. We send our weft through this shed.

Then we go back to the up shed. Then the down shed. Then the up shed. Then the down shed. On and on, until our fabric is complete.

If we do that and only that, we make plain weave–the most basic weave. It’s so basic, it’s what I’d used to make pot holders as a Boy Scout.

But the rigid heddle has another trick up its sleeve–the pick up stick.

Pick up Stick

All by itself, the pick up stick–which looks like an overly ambitious tongue depressor–expands the possibilities of the rigid heddle loom almost infinitely. Here is how it is most often used.

After putting the reed into the down position, you take the pick up stick and you pick up (get it?) certain threads in the top of the shed according to the pattern you wish to weave. In this photograph I’ve done a very simple pick up: one up, one down.

Pick up yarn

Now watch what happens. If I put the reed in neutral and stand the pick up stick on edge, I get a third shed with a different combination of threads raised and lowered. This is usually called the “pattern stick shed.”

pick up

That’s undeniably groovy, but there’s even more.

If we put the reed in the up position and slide the stick forward (keeping it flat) we can get a fourth shed (usually called the “up and stick shed”).

Four sheds–up, down, pattern stick, up and stick–all on one tiny loom with one stick. And that, friends, is where rigid heddle weaving and nice-potholders-for-mommy begin to part company. Four sheds means we need not limit ourselves to plain weave.

All that’s needed is a plan, a delicious yarn, and a warp.

The plan is ready.

The yarn is ready.

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The warp–that’ll take some time.

The next part of this adventure will appear in two weeks. (No, it won’t take two weeks to warp the loom. But this installment is at over a thousand words already, and I think you deserve a break.)

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Hikoo Rylie: 50% baby alpaca, 25% mulberry silk, 25% linen; 274 yd/100 g per ball; colors: Periwinkle, Freesia, Guava

Schacht Cricket Fifteen Inch Rigid Heddle Loom and pick up stick by Schacht Spindle Company.

1 Fridays with Franklin: Adventure in the Shadows, Part Two

For the first part of this adventure, click here.

You know what I did first, don’t you? You know you do, you just don’t want to hear me say it.

I swatched.

Confession time: I love swatching.

If that makes you bristle, let me reassure you that I understand. I wasn’t always like this. I used to hate swatching. Swatching was vile. Swatching was the pile of green beans my mother used to force-feed me before I was allowed to have a cookie.  I hated green beans.*

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Why did I change? Experience. People say swatches lie, and swatches do. But the most deceitful swatch still tells you more that no swatch at all.

Swatching isn’t just about checking your gauge to make sure you end up with something of the correct size. It’s also about testing the fabric. Does it look good? Does it have the right amount of drape? Frankly, it doesn’t matter if you “get” gauge but the yarn you’ve chosen to get it gives you a fabric stiff as cardboard and you’re looking to make a shawl.

With shadow knitting, my favorite way to swatch is just to pick one color or the other and start knitting a piece of garter stitch. Here’s the kind of garter stitch I look for:

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See how nice and snug those ridges are? That’s good. Here’s what I avoid:

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If you get snug garter stitch, the gauge of your shadow fabric will generally give you a bold, legible hidden pattern.

This was also a good test flight for the Schoppel Gradient. As I mentioned in the last installment, I was concerned that the slightly irregular nature of the yarn might render it unsuitable for shadow knitting. But when I saw these nice, plump garter ridges

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I knew I was good to go.

That’s what a swatch is supposed to do for you, you know–let you set forth without anxiety. Or at least with less anxiety.

What pattern to knit, though? I wanted, on this test flight, to try out the shifting colors and see how they’d play against one another. That meant keeping it simple. A square would have grown monotonous very quickly, so I charted up a circle.

As I’d hoped, what grew was a series of bold explosions on a moody background. The nature of shadow knitting is to stretch out motifs, so they were more oblong than circular. I liked that.

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I also liked the way the simultaneous changes in the background and foreground led to the unexpected.

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All the while, one thought kept nagging me. These looked like something I’d seen. What was it? Paints in a paintbox? Not quite. Candies on a tray? Definitely not.

I was talking with a knitter friend when it hit me.

“They look like the sun rising through clouds. In the morning, when they’re storm clouds full of city pollution, and I’m at the airport, and it’s really early, and my eyes are kind of bleary, and I have hours of horrible flying before I’ll get any kind of rest.”

“That’s cheery,” he said.

“Angry sunrises,” I said. “Eleven angry sunrises.”

“Some people are inspired by pretty flowers,” he said.

“That’s what I’m going to call this,” I said. “Eleven Angry Sunrises.”

“You can’t call a knitting pattern ‘Eleven Angry Sunrises.’”

“Why not?”

“Because it sounds angry. Knitting is supposed to make you think happy thoughts.”

“Well, I’m not calling it Eleven Happy Sunrises.”

“Why not?”

“Because it sounds like the name of a cult.”

“And what is knitting?”

I have to admit he had a point.

Your Own Adventure: Recipe for Eleven Happy (or Angry) Sunrises

Procure two skeins of Schoppel Gradient in different colorways. The more difference between your colorways, the bolder your surprises will be.

You will also need two stitch markers, and the shadow circle chart above. And of course, scissors and a tapestry needle. (Do I really have to tell you that? Patterns always tell you that, but do they really have to?)

As described above, knit a good-sized garter stitch swatch (about four inches by four inches will do it) to make sure you have a firm but not tight fabric. If the fabric could stand up in the corner by itself, it’s too firm. If it looks like fishnet, it’s too loose.

Don’t bind off the swatch; rip it out so you can use the yarn.

With your first color, cast on 27 stitches.

You’re going to put garter stitch borders around the sunrises just for pretty. So knit two rows with Color One, then join Color Two and knit two rows with that. From this point on, you will always alternate two rows of Color One, then two rows of Color Two.

Enough border. Time for pattern.

With Color One, knit three stitches. That’s your right-hand garter stitch border. Place a stitch marker. Knit the first row of the chart. You’ll have three stitches left; place a marker, then knit them. Those are your left-hand border.

Now, follow the chart when you’re inside the markers. Outside the markers, knit all stitches. Don’t cut the yarns at the end of each stripe, just carry them up the right-hand selvedge as you work.

When you have had quite enough, knit two more garter stripes–one in each color–and bind off using the color of the final stripe.

Block, if you like. Weave in ends. Admire.

Our next adventure begins in two weeks…click here.

*I still hate green beans.

Tools and Materials Appearing in This Issue

Schoppel Gradient: 100% Virgin Wool, 260m/100g per ball; colors: 1873 (red-orange) and 1508 (black-white).

53 Fridays with Franklin – It’s Play Time

It’s Play Time

Ten years ago, had you asked any of my coworkers to describe me they’d all have said the same thing: “He’s the weirdo who knits in meetings.” It’s true. I am a weirdo, and I did knit furiously through every meeting that didn’t require me to check my needles at the door.

I am sorry to say it was not a very nice place to work. Some days, the soothing influence of knitting was all that kept me on the side of perfect propriety. It is not easy to slap someone when both your hands are otherwise engaged.

Stuff I was knitting began to draw notice in the burgeoning online fiber arts community. I was asked to write articles. I was asked to write a book. I was asked to teach knitting classes. I was asked to design patterns. I said yes. Also yes, yes, yes, and yes.

Suddenly knitting was no longer the thing I did to survive meetings. Knitting was the reason I had meetings. Knitting became my work. Alice, having popped through the looking-glass and into an alternate reality, was not more startled at her new digs than I.

Like Alice, I was by turns delighted and frustrated. Knitting is all fun and games when it’s all fun and games. When it becomes work, the games are postponed indefinitely. Deadlines don’t leave much room for rambling. You have to pick a topic and stick to it.

That is a pity.

In my experience the best sort of creativity is the messiest. I have been asked a few times about the creative process, and all my answers have been lies.

To talk about creative process in an interview, you have to make up a story about it. You cannot speak plain truth. You are not, for example, allowed to say that you have no creative process, unless by “process” you mean lying on the couch watching cat videos and crying until the thing is due in forty-eight hours and, fueled entirely by Mallomars and Diet Coke, you squeeze out a new mitten pattern in much the same way one forces the last squirt of toothpaste from the tube.

Instead, you have to shake the Mallomar crumbs out of your beard, smile brightly and present a narrative something like this:

I had an Idea.

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Then I did some stuff. (This is the “creative arc.” In movies, it’s always a montage during which the artist maniacally paints/dances/types while the Pointer Sisters sing “I’m So Excited.”)

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And then I had made my Idea into a Thing.

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The end.

And to be honest, sometimes it does work like that. The tight deadlines of a competitive business can force you to lock your focus on Point Z and scoot towards it with little to no deviation.

But that, too, is a pity.

Because I find the best work comes often from a creative path that looks a little more like this.

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Start here…

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…but then…

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…and then…

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…whereupon…

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…and then suddenly…

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Those loops and switchbacks and zigzags–those are the moments when you mess around. Those are the times you let go of Point Z and just play. Me, I find my very best work happens when I never make it to Z at all, and when my final product is wildly different from my original idea.

That’s what this project with Makers’ Mercantile will be all about: playing. All sorts of playing, too. Knitting, yes–but also crochet, weaving, felting, embroidery, rug making, and anything else we can dream up. We are going to let go, move forward, and see where we end up.

We are going to have adventures.

And here is what I promise you:

I will show you the good stuff that we find.

I will show you how we got to the good stuff.

I will never pretend to be perfect.

When we run off the road and into a ditch, I will show you that, too.

Are you ready?

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I am. Let’s go.

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