Things handmade. About making things.
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Wednesday, July 9, 2008

When does a hat become a tea cozy?

When does a hat become a tea cozy?
...and vice versa

One day I got an “emergency” phone call from my sister who was working as a prop and wardrobe assistant for a TV show. “We need a tea cozy - do you have any patterns for one in your old knitting book collection?” I got a chuckle out of imagining what it would be like on the set when the need for a vintage tea cozy dawned suddenly and the flurry of phone calls that would ensue...but I told my sister that I’d had have a look as soon as I got home, that I was pretty sure I did have some and that basically she could tell her costume and wardrobe people that in a way, a tea cozy was just a hat with a couple of slits in the right places. All dependent on the style of tea cozy, of course. Some tea cozies have been known to double as hats and hats have been pressed into the duty of keeping the tea hot and a lot of things will do for that besides. But here I share my formula for a tea cozy that is also the basis for a favorite mindless hat....wedges formed by short rows in garter stitch.

Garter stitch has a lot of interesting features. When I first started knitting I couldn’t wait to do stocking stitch but over the years I have come to love and appreciate garter stitch for its simplicity, mindless ease, predictable stretchiness, flatness and squareness. Relatively speaking, of course. And some yarns look darn fabulous knit up in garter stitch. I think Noro Kureyon is one of those yarns so, let’s start with a ball (give or take) of Kureyon (or whatever you like along those lines).

Next we need the tea pot in need of a cozy. Have a look at that tea pot and take a few measurements. What is that charming little tea pot’s girth? And what is it’s cup size? How big is it from lid to base? Where is its handle and where is its spout?

For this cozy we need some needles (indeed) and as it is knit flat and seamed (seemingly seamlessly later) any needle of the correct size will do. The correct size is whatever needle you need to knit your yarn just a bit firmer than the recommended gauge. In my case I use 3.75 mm bamboos. I have noticed that Kureyon, unless felted, tends to relax over time so you can often knit it a little firmer than you think.

If you’ve used Kureyon a lot you will probably have a pretty good idea of how it knits up - but if you haven’t do a quick gauge swatch. How quick? How about 15 stitches and 6 rows (or 3 ridges). Right about now I can hear the champions of the gauge swatch murmuring and the thunder clouds roiling. For this task, this is enough to give you an idea. Figure out how many stitches per centimeter or inch you are working at. Take that number and multiply it by your tea pot's top to bottom measurement. Now destroy the evidence of your shoddy gauge swatch.

My teapot top to bottom was 6 1/2 inches and my gauge is 5 stitches to the inch which means I need to cast on 32.5 stitches, which is hard to do, so I cast on 33 stitches. I tend to cast on by knitting in between the two stitches. Leave 6 - 8 inches of a tail for the hanging loop later.
Knit across your cast on row. Now you have 33 stitches on one needle; your “tail” is at the top of the cozy. Slip the first stitch of the next row and knit across until one stitch is left. Bring the yarn to the front of the work, slip the last stitch and turn. Next row, you will knit into the back of the first stitch, then continue on as normal. This way of slipping and knitting creates a neat chain stitch edge. See?

Knit along until you are 2 stitches from the end of the row (the tail is there to tell you it's the top). Slip the next stitch as if to purl, bring the yarn to the front and transfer the stitch BACK to the left hand needle. There are 2 stitches on the left hand needle and 31 on the right. Turn the work around. The yarn should be in the back now, ready to go. Knit until you are one stitch from the end, yarn to the front, slip, turn (for your chain stitch edge). Start the next row by knitting into the back of the first stitch, knit along as usual to 3 stitches to the end. At the third stitch, slip stitch purl-wise, yarn to front, slip stitch back to the needle. Turn and knit to the end, do your chain stitch hem.

This is how to do short rows; the transfer of the stitch back and forth to the left hand needle without knitting it is called wrapping. It is very helpful for when we go to knit those stitches later as it prevent holes from appearing at the turning points.
Now just keep going, each time turning a stitch further from the end, so 4, 5, 6, etc. and keeping up your chain stitch hem.

We are going to go until we make a wedge. How big a wedge?
Well, take your little teapot’s girth and divide it by 6. My teapot was 18 inches around, so divided by 6 that makes 3, multiply that by my gauge and I get 15. I could do 15 turns and get a wedge that had 15 ridges on it. This will be just fine, but just because I yam what I yam, I do 14 ridges. I know this yarn is going to stretch a bit over time. So that means I will keep wrapping and turning until I have done it 14 times. It looks something like this:

After a while you will be able to see and feel which stitches have been wrapped and which ones haven’t. Do work with good light or lighter shades of yarn at first if this technique is new to you. It helps to see what it going on.

Now we have a wedge and we need to make more. 6 more to be exact.
Starting from your chain stitch hem knit along until you get to the last stitch you wrapped, in my case, #14. Have a look at that stitch and notice how the little yarn that was wrapped around the base of the stitch is lying there. I take my right hand needle and scoop up the wrapped yarn from the bottom then twist the needle and knit into the wrapped stitch. This seems like a lot of words to describe a little movement. Check around online or in your knitting how to books for diagrams. There is more than one way to turn a row. Also some people say with garter stitch you don’t have to pick up the wrap, but I beg to differ. Give it a try at least, it might be a good trick to have in your knitting repertoire later.

Okay, back to the wedge.
Once you’ve knit to the top again picking up your wrapped (or not) stitches, turn, slip the first stitch, knit to the end, do your chain stitch hem, turn work, knit to 2 stitches to the end, slip, wrap, slip, turn, etcetera until you have another wedge. 2 wedges down, 4 to go!
Complete your third wedge, but stop when you get to your chain stitch edge, don’t pick up your wrapped stitches, we need to make an opening for the spout. My spout was 2 inches high and 2 inches wide and it was just shy of an inch from the ground. Using my gauge, I know that the opening should be 10 stitches but me being me, I am going to make that 12. I need about an inch below the spout so I knit the first 5 stitches, then I am going to cast off the next 12 stitches and continue knitting to the top, picking up the wrapped stitches as I go. Phew.

Next wedge we are going to have to put those stitches back on so. Slip the first stitch at the top, and when you get to the hole, use backward loops to add the 12 stitches to close the gap and continue knitting to the end of the row. It is sort of a giant buttonhole. As you come across those new stitches on the next row, they may need a little coaxing but it should all even out. Now just knit your next 3 wedges the same, and when you get to the end of the last wedge, stay at the chain stitch edging. This is where things can get a little tricky. If you want to try the graft, read on. If not, bind off loosely grabbing your wraps as you go. Sew up leaving an appropriate opening for the handle.

Okay for the graft...
Dig out another knitting needle, finer than the one you are using and, starting from the top, pick up 33 stitches from the cast on edge. Try to be consistent about how you pick up the stitches. Here’s what we are going to do next. We are going to “graft” the live stitches to the cast on edge, except where we need to leave an opening for the handle.
And we may be picking up those wrapped stitches as we go (I like to try). If you end up with 32 picked up stitches, you can fudge it when you get to the top, just make sure you have a stitch picked up from close to the chain stitch edge. If you are more than 1 stitch short, try again. Break your yarn leaving a tail about 4 times the length of the seam. Grab your darning needle. If you’ve never grafted before I suggest trolling about online or consulting your knitting how to books for a description. It is also called Kitchener stitch . For this graft you do the same stitch on both needles. Have your live stitches in front and your picked up stitches at the back.

Take the yarn and pass it through the first stitch on the front needle as if to purl, leave the stitch on the needle.
Take the yarn to the first stitch on the back needle and pass it through as if to purl & leave it on the needle. This is just for the set up.
Go back to the front needle, slip the yarn through as if to knit, lift the stitch off the needle, go into the next stitch on the same needle as if to purl and leave it on the needle.
Now go to the back needle, slip the yarn through as if to knit, lift the stitch off the needle, go into the next stitch on the same needle as if to purl and leave it on the needle. To fit my handle, I did this 5 times. That is, I removed 5 stitches from both the front and back needle. Ah, at the 5th stitch on each needle, I ended with a knit and slip off, no following purl. Then I picked up my other 3.75 mm needle and loosely cast off the next 15 stitches from the front needle. I missed the first wrapped stitch actually, and by not grabbing the wrap I did leave a little hole, which I didn’t notice until much later.
Now drop the corresponding number of stitches from the back needle, in my case 15.
Reattach your darning needles and start the grafting again. Try to catch your wraps. This isn’t easy, I usually do a noodle-y thing and get the wrap with the “purl” part of the sequence. I have tried it by ignoring the wrap on the purl part and picking it up on the knit part. It doesn’t look too bad, actually. As long as you are consistent it will be fine. And remember, if you keep repeating something - it can become a design element!!
At the top you will now have two threads. Do with them as you will. I like to braid, twist or otherwise knot them into a loop. Great if you hang your cozy when not in use.

There you have it.

If this is completely incomprehensible, please ask.And this cozy took 40 grams of Kureyon, what am I going to do with the leftover???

Saturday, July 5, 2008

Going Gracefully

Amidst these busy summer days of visits and concerts and guests and events there remains the odd quiet moment to reflect, to pick up the knitting or mending, and let the mind focus in peace while a button gets reattached, a bead gets strung and a few rows of stocking stitch get added to a sleeve. One such moment was thrust upon me the day before yesterday as I waited outside a hospital room while my boyfriend paid his last respects to one of his oldest friends. Oli died quite suddenly, though not unexpectedly as he had been through the wringer to treat his leukemia and the sad reality that there was not going to be a cure was known to all. As I waited I thought and the little stitches hopped from one needle to the next, sometimes with very little help, like sand running through an hourglass.

Oli has done many amazing things in his creative life, and has inspired creativity and a sense of musical adventure in the lives of many others. He has nurtured an incredible next generation of musicians already. Knowing that his days where few, he was seized with the desire to do one last show before an audience. In less than 6 weeks the whole event was organized. On June 5th 2008, fighting fatigue that was imperceptible to the audience he gave an absolutely brilliant show with some closest of his musical collaborators. The program had as much new material as familiar and every person in the hall hung on to every note. The joy of the event, the beauty of the music and the intense awareness of all in the room that this concert, this performance was a gift from Oli was palpable. It was a gift from us to Oli, too. The show rapidly sold out the 80o seat hall and the love and appreciation he was showered with I am sure helped to give him an incredible sense of peace, of goodness, of knowing that he is loved and that he has living legacy. That is something few people get to experience - few people in his state of life are able to rise up to the inevitable and continue to create and give and be given. I think Oli recognized that gift to him.

He left in a way that was like some of his tunes. At concerts and even on recordings, I often wished he'd repeat the melody - "That was too short, Oli," I'd say in my mind, "Play it again from the top!" While he still had many projects and visions, while much was left undone and while he left us much, much, much too soon, he somehow managed to go like a note hanging off his violin, the strings vibrating after the last powerful draw of the bow. Rather than the cancer take him - small piece by small piece - he went all at once due to a complication. How odd, that a complication in a way simplified the end.

But it was his commitment to his creativity, to what gave him joy in life - music - and how his joy became the joy of others that has been the great shining beacon for me and the many around him who were lucky enough to know him. Life goes on until the last moment if we can let ourselves see it that way. I did not feel the least bit morbid or dark, sitting there knitting quietly by the door. Sad, yes indeed, but there I was making a sleeve for my little niece, a kind of commitment to the future, to life, if you will.

If you enjoy music that springs from tradition and wanders artfully and playfully in many directions, seek out Oli's recordings. I adore Camino. I have listened to it over and over without tiring of it. All his music is good but that one has a special place in my heart. It is beautiful music to just close your eyes to and let your ears paint pictures for you. It is lovely music to inspire you while you fill row after row with stitches and your mind wanders. Thanks, Oli. Godspeed.