May 11, 2013

8 Ode to Rowan Kidsilk Aura -- The Sofia Wrap

I present to you one of my favorite knits: the Sofia Wrap.  The pattern is by Kaffe Fassett from Rowan Magazine 48.

The photos are taken at an isolated, rustic chalet on a hunting and fishing preserve (Portneuf) in Quebec.  It takes only 3 hours to get to the gate on the freeway from Montréal... but add an extra hour and half to traverse 50km of dirt road in an economy rental!  There is no electricity, but there are gas lamps, a gas stove and a gas fridge.  It is the definition of peaceful, as you can tell below.  Part of the reason I am blogging about this today is because we just re-reserved for 7 days of person/internet/noise-free bliss in July.

We had a lot of fun trying to get the perfect photograph on that swing.

And here is my 'taking the waters' photo series you read about in 19th century novels where ladies simply must go to Bath, the Baltic or wherever for "recovery".  (Recovery from wearing corsets daily, I'm sure.)

This wrap is the combination of everything I love in knitting:

1. Intarsia colorwork.  In intarsia, you carry bobbins of color along the back of the work, twisting in the new color when you come to it.  This technique seems to frighten a lot of people, but I find it addictive and fun.  I prefer intarsia to stranding (or, holding 2 colors at once for every stitch) because the fabric is thinner, and you never have to bother with wondering what both of your hands are doing.

But with intarsia, you have hundreds of ends to weave in.  I tried my best, and even made a cartoon for the particular short ends I was cutting.  The yarn, Rowan Kidsilk Aura, is silk and mohair, and has the curious property of being slippery when you want it to be firm (i.e. weaving ends), but being firm when you want it to be slippery (i.e. ripping out).

You are forced to show the back of this wrap if you don't have a lining, so you have to be neat.  I'm rather satisfied with how I managed.  Also: I don't recommend a lining, the silk in the yarn adds enough weight, and you would lose the delicious warmth and softness of this one-of-a-kind fabric.

2. Kaffe Fassett color patterning.  You don't knit Kaffe Fassett for fit or fashion... you knit his patterns for amazing color patterning and repeats.  I replicated most of his color choices, except the overly green "Orchard"... I tried to replace with the yellow-green "Pistachio" as much as possible.  I did end up using Orchard, and still don't like it's tone compared to the other shades.

Here are my preferred intarsia tools, bobbins, and my favorite colors in the wrap (the full ball is Pistachio):

3. Rowan Kidsilk Aura.  This is the most luxurious, scrumptious-feeling yarn I have EVER knit with.  It is a combination of kid mohair and silk (like the very popular laceweight Rowan Kidsilk Haze), but three times the weight.  Sadly, it is discontinued.  I hope that this amazing yarn will be revived someday.

All is not lost!  Here is a Ravelry search for members who are willing to sell their Kidsilk Aura stashes.  Alternatively, Jannette's Rare Yarns STILL carries brand new bags of 10 of a few colors, at an amazing price.  Here is my recent acquisition of the color Forest.  Don't you want to dive in?

Just to tempt you even more, here is a fantastic sweater (Mellow by Anna and Heidi Pickles) knit by my dear friend Ringleader on Ravelry... that takes 10 balls or less!  There is, seriously, an inch of fuzz "aura" coming off her shoulders.  An aptly named yarn, Rowan!  

As you can probably tell, I have quite a Kidsilk Aura stash.  I'm thinking of working on this gem in a Rowan Kidsilk Aura pattern booklet: Liliana.

It will be a lot of fun to convert this sweater into a version with all my little Sofia Wrap leftovers!  Just imagine... 

May 4, 2013

8 The Science of Hearing -- Basile's Hair Cell Sweater

B. likes thin sweaters.  Actually, men like thin sweaters.  They get hot in big bulky things, and keep them in the closet until "skiing" or some other excuse.  

Sad to only see his knit sweaters come out a few times a year, I decided to go for something that would probably take a long time to make, but would be used regularly.  We picked Elizabeth Zimmerman's Seamless Hybrid because I'd be able to adapt it to any gauge.  Jared Flood has a particularly attractive version:

I fell in love with the color Sequoia in Madelinetosh Merino Light, a one-ply sportweight yarn.  This color is perfect for B.  He likes bright colors enormously, but is a tad shy about wearing them, so I try to find him colors that are on the fringe of the 'man' range of hues, with spots of brightness.  This is a bright brick red with slight black and red clay tones... it's really gorgeous.  Of course, when I bought another skein much later, the color Sequoia looked utterly different, way more orange, no beautiful ruby toning.  Beware!

B. is a scientist, like myself.  He works on how 'hair cells', the cells responsible for our hearing, develop in the embryo.  These cells are exquisitely shaped, a real anatomical wonder!  When sound enters our ear, it moves fluid over the "v-shaped" bundle of hairs along the cell and the sound frequencies are transmitted to the brain.  You can see the bundle very well in these electron microscopy micrographs:

B. didn't know that his sweater would be a special Science Sweater.  There are 4 rows of hair cells in the ear, 3 of a smaller size, 1 of a larger size.    Here is some of B.'s actual data showing the 4 rows:

Using this chart I made in Excel, I knit 3 rows of smaller hair cell rows around the torso.

With another chart, I knit 1 column of large hair cells up the sleeves.

If you look closely, you'll see that I've added a 'mutant' hair cell on the sleeve, heh heh.  One of the genetic causes of deafness he studies involves mis-positioning of the v-shaped bundle:

It took a couple of months, but he looked over at me one day and said, "That's not just stockinette... what are you DOING to my sweater?"  Yes, he said "stockinette".  I gave it to him, and it took about a full minute until his eyes opened wide and he said, "Oh my god, they're hair cells!"  He was very happy.  I hope that one day he will wear this sweater during a job interview!

Here is the saddle-shoulder style that gives the "seamless hybrid" its name. I was never really able to fix the little blip on the back that happens because of an unavoidable mismatch of kitchener stitch (it's on the left).

We had a disaster after blocking.  I soaked the sweater in a Eucalan wash before blocking and after drying it had stretched to over 5 inches TOO LONG.  It was absolutely chilling, the blood drained from my face!  Don't put tosh merino light in Eucalan, please!  I threw it in a tub of super-hot water for 45 minutes, and it looked the same (oh, superwash).  I let it dry, threw it in a basket to frog, and went on vacation for 2.5 weeks.  When I came back, I took it out again to measure something salvageable... and it fit perfectly.  It fit perfectly... how did it fit perfectly??  Ok, the sleeves had to be shortened, but no big deal, I had done them top down.  I consider this whole experience a modern knitting miracle!  This yarn clearly expands and contracts in mysterious ways.

B. wore his sweater almost every day this winter, it makes me tear up just to write this.  =) 

And as for the one-ply yarn (always a pilling danger), it has a worn/fuzzy aura, for sure, but no pilling at all.  I am surprised at how well it looks for this type of yarn.  

Let's end with the "man activity" shot seen in every men's sweater pattern book...  Cheers!

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