Holiday travel knitting that didn’t get done

The quest: yarns for swatches that will be scanned or photographed

For holiday travel knitting, I had intended to work on color swatches to be scanned or photographed for a book Nomad Press will be publishing next year. But I had a yarn problem.

Usually I knit swatches in Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb worsted. It’s a simple, basic yarn that’s pleasant to work with and is consistent but not boring. My favorite shades for this kind of swatching are 100 (natural, which is not so white that detail burns out in the photos or scans) combined for colorwork swatches with a lovely gray-green that isn’t currently produced (it’s dark enough to give adequate contrast and light enough that you can still see the individual stitches within the color areas). I have some of that color in my stash.

Because it’s a singles yarn, Top of the Lamb doesn’t have the visual static of a plying construction to interfere with what the swatches need to show.

However, it works up at 5 stitches to the inch (2.5 cm). With the necessary margins around the pattern area (clear stitches for image-cropping and a border to prevent roll and edge-stitch distortion), I can work a swatch with a maximum repeat of 55 stitches by 39 rows, or 32 stitches by 64 rows. That has been plenty for the swatches for the past several books.

Sometimes, though, this isn’t big enough. I’ve been facing the limits with some swatches I’ve been working on for Priscilla Gibson-Roberts’ revision of her book on Cowichan knitting, and I’ve run into it recently on the swatches for another title that’s in development.

Choices: switch from scanner to camera (has some advantages, but more disadvantages) or find a yarn that works as well as the Brown Sheep worsted at a smaller gauge. Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb comes in a sportweight, but it isn’t stocked locally.

1. I tried Cascade 220 in 8412 (natural) and 9464B, which is very close to the ideal Brown Sheep green. Cascade 220 is also a worsted-weight yarn, but it can be knitted up a little more densely than Brown Sheep worsted. While it’s a four-ply, the plying structure doesn’t interfere much with the view of the stitches, although because it’s a little softer than Top of the Lamb the definition’s a little "squishier" (that’s a technical term that I just made up).

I worked out a few of the challenges of this particular set of swatches on my Cascade 220 trial, and the results nearly fit on the scanner bed, but not quite. I could try to scan it in sections nice and squarely (there are ways to do this that are not perfect but can be managed) and then combine them in Photoshop, but I’d rather knit than mess with a computer so I continued my quest for the right swatching yarn. I’ve got several swatches to which the solution to this problem will apply, so it’s worth the effort of getting the yarn right.

After visits to all the local knitters’ haunts, I went to the chain stores, thinking they might have a sportweight wool in stock in decent colors. Nope. Even the acrylics weren’t available in appropriate colors; the fact that I was considering acrylic is a sign of my desperation. I’m happy enough knitting swatches, because I learn something from every swatch I make, but I don’t enjoy knitting most acrylics. It’s kind of like having pasteurized process cheese instead of Tillamook extra-sharp or Kerrygold cheddar.

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While I was in Seattle, I browsed the Weaving Works, looking for a nice, generic yarn. They had one option among the knitting yarns but it were pricier than I wanted to use for swatches . . . and it wasn’t available on the spot in appropriate colors. Because of timing, I couldn’t get to Acorn Street Shop (where I had other items I wanted to get, but that’ll be next trip) or Fiber Gallery. Given my druthers, I’d get in at least a small amount of trouble at all three shops on each visit to the area.

However, as I was about to leave I cruised back toward the weaving area, thinking that some of the weaving yarns might work.

2. I found something with potential: Klippans Tuna, a Swedish yarn, 6/2 (weaving-speak), at 350 yards/100 grams or 1600 yards/pound. (For comparison, 220 is 220 yards/100 grams . . . the reason for its name . . . and Brown Sheep Top of the Lamb worsted is 190 yards/113 grams. 100 grams is about 3.5 ounces and 113 grams is about 4 ounces.)

It’s a two-ply yarn, with more twist in both the singles and the plying than many yarns primarily intended for knitting rather than weaving. I didn’t like the lack of clarity in the swatch I started. Comparing the 220 swatchlet above with the Tuna swatchlet, the Tuna stitches aren’t as straight and well defined in relation to each other. Often a weaving yarn will soften when it’s washed, and I might have liked the results better if I’d washed the yarn before swatching, but there were some other things I didn’t feel completely comfortable with: the white was whiter than I wanted and the green, while adequate, was just a bit light.

I think the Tuna might make some terrific mittens, when I have time to play with the ideas in Terri Shea’s lovely (and independently published) Selbuvotter, but that won’t happen until I slam-dunk these swatches (and a couple of other work-related pieces of knitting).

3. So I gave up and ordered some Top of the Lamb sportweight from an online source. I chose the best of the available colors for the dark, number 310 (peacock), which is darker than ideal but should work. It arrived swiftly and I ripped open the envelope and thought, "Gee, those skeins of peacock look awfully similar to the worsted weight . . . and the natural looks about right for a sportweight. . . ." Yup, the peacocks were, indeed, worsted weight.

A phone call straightened that out and I should have my sportweight contrasting yarn soon. At 350 yards/113 grams (4 ounces), it’s just slightly heavier than the Klippans Tuna, so it should work.

But meanwhile I haven’t completed the swatches and I’ve needed to be knitting something else for travel. That’s the topic for what should be the next post.

Car progress?

As the snow begins to melt, in exchange for patches of clear, slick ice where the runoff has refrozen, bits of clear, yellow, and red plastic are showing up in interesting places in front of the house. Also sections of car that are not related to brake, signal, or headlights have begun to appear. It’ll be good to sweep up: an activity that will be enabled by claim progress and thawing.

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As of this afternoon, our claim has been transferred to a new department at the driver-who-hit-our-car’s insurance company: the Total Loss Department. I’m not sure I’d want to say I worked at the Total Loss Department, although I think the people who do work there probably clear up a lot of messes, and therefore are quite the opposite of a total loss themselves. Apparently the other car is also now being handled by this department.

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2 Responses

  1. I see an SUV-hybrid in your future.

  2. Wow, would I love that. “New” or even “kinda new” is not in the immediate picture as far as I’ve been able to calculate using all available resources that I’m currently aware of. The Highlander has been hybrid only since ’06. (I’m cruising the ’04s and ’05s of various wheel-types.) There isn’t a hybrid RAV4 yet. I’m not sure I want an Escape, although it would be fine by me if the ’94 Explorer lasted *forever* (27 mpg because of its manual transmission, and does everything I want besides). First Escape hybrid year was ’05, so it might meet the financial criteria, although I like to avoid the first year of ANY major introduction or redesign, if possible. Mazda JUST started making a hybrid SUV (too new for my budget); a Saturn Vue backed into me once when I was driving a low-slung Subaru sedan and then blamed the crunch on me (not good enough rear visibility for my taste); I clearly don’t have a Lexus budget; and the rest of the current hybrid models are too honkin’ big AND expensive (Tahoe, Mariner, Yukon).

    I even tried to figure out if I could get a spinning wheel and six boxes of books and a dog crate into a Prius, but even if I could work out the space issues the suspension wouldn’t handle it.

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