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We now return you to the original purpose of this blog…

Way back when (in 2009), I started this blog with the purpose of recording my journey through The Knitting Guild Association (TKGA) Master Knitter program.  My craft interests, and thus this blog, have taken a circuitous journey since then.

The Master Knitter program is a correspondence program designed to test a knitter’s ability and comprehension of knitting technique, history, application, and design.  Much like an academic Master’s program (ask me how I know), there is a lot of research, writing, practice, and independent learning required.  TKGA also offers correspondence courses aimed at teaching beginner and intermediate knitters that have more hands-on help from instructors, if you do not feel you are at a level where “mastery” might be in your grasp.  For the Master Hand Knitter program, the expectation is that while you may not be at a “master” level when you begin, through the questions and assignments of the program, you will learn independently, and when your work is evaluated to mark a high level of understanding and achievement, you can pass onto the next level.

How long?  There are three levels to the program, and I passed Level 1 back in 2010.  Considering the rather slow pace of knitting projects in the past few years, completing something on that scale in just 22 months seems kind of extraordinary when I look back.  Although at the time, I was chagrined that it took me so long.  In any case, my husband has just started a Ph.D. program this fall, and our joking challenge to each other is that we are having a race – me to finish the 2nd and 3rd levels to be officially a “master knitter”, and him to earn a Ph.D.  Right now, I consider it fairly even odds… and considering that he is taking the program part-time and it may take him more than 4 years just to complete the coursework (let alone dissertation), you can guess that I’m expecting a slow slog on my end.

What’s my motivation?  Unlike my with husband’s PhD, achieving this Master Knitter distinction probably won’t immediately lead to new job prospects – maybe for some it would, but not for me.  I’m already in a career I like.  I do hope to be a knitting teacher, artist, and knitwear designer in my retirement career, but I’m a looooong way from retirement.  I probably have a good 20 years or more (the way they keep pushing back those things) before full-time knitter/artist becomes my new line of work.  So the Master Knitter distinction wouldn’t get me anything in the immediate sense other than a sense of accomplishment, and probably some props from other knitters.  I think there might also be a shiny pin.

Instead, the real benefit is the motivation to learn and challenge myself to be a better knitter.  I haven’t knit much in the last 4 years.  Between work pressures, finishing that other kind of Master’s, some issues with having a baby, and then actually having a baby, my knitting energy and enthusiasm slowed down for a while.  I’ve been disappointed, as I’ve gotten my mojo back, at how much I feel like my skills have atrophied.  And how slow I knit now!  It’s time to get back on the proverbial horse, get back to the program, and start “leveling up” as a knitter again!

The cost:  Back in 2010, when I passed Level I, I purchased Level II for $95 (the price appears to have been raised to $97 since).  In addition, in order to interact with the program (i.e., buy a level, or submit anything), you must also be a current member of TKGA.  This is, currently, $35/year with possible discounts for choosing the digital subscription to Cast-On magazine or for going with the two-year membership.

Then there are yarn costs:  There are some worsted weight swatches, a couple of laceweight swatches, a colorwork wristlet, one argyle sock (although seriously, I’m going to want to knit a pair so my husband can wear them once approved), and a vest required.  I might actually be able to manage all of this from stash, as I think I optimistically bought all the materials needed back when I purchased the level… the only question is whether I used some of it up for other projects in the meantime.

The requirements (as of Rev. 5/1/15):

Written materials:  A 3-page report on the history of knitting, four book reviews, 16 questions, gauge worksheets based on a couple of the swatches, and a written pattern for one of the swatches.

Knitted materials:  

  • 19 swatches – mostly demonstrating finishing techniques like seaming, buttonholes, and necklines, but also some for colorwork, lace, and demonstrating cable problem-solving,
  • a fair-isle wristlet
  • an argyle sock – demonstrating intarsia and duplicate stitch, as well as sock construction and seaming (because the fancy part of the argyle sock is knit flat!)
  • a vest… I think it’s supposed to have side seams – but maybe there’s an exception if you want to do Fair Isle… I need to find out more as I do love the look of Fair Isle vests.

I think I’m most intimidated by the prospect of the vest and sock, since I haven’t finished anything that technical or shaped or large (in stitch count) in a very long time!

Until next time, keep those needles clicking…

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Clear stamps: techniques and tips

In a previous post, I was lamenting the difficulty I was having in getting good stamp impressions out of some of my cling stamps.  I did some research across various forums and websites, and here are some tips I ran across.  I haven’t had time to try all of them, but my results are improving, and I am highly optimistic that after some experimentation I will find a method that works consistently for me.

20131208-215358.jpgStamp Quality:

  • Not all clear stamps are the same.
  • Photopolymer process stamps tend to be easier to ink, and work with, but also more expensive (e.g., Flourishes, Simon Says Stamp brand, My Favorite Things).
  • Cheaper silicone or acrylic clear stamps might take more experimenting to get a good impression (e.g., Scrappy Cat, Inkadinkado).  However, not all “acrylic” stamps are equal either.  There are reports that a few brands (e.g., Penny Black, Recollections, Martha Stewart, Fiskars), are acrylic but are less squishable and less prone to image quality problems.
  • Photopolymer stamps often have a weird initial smell, in case that helps identify what you have.
  • Now that I know there is a difference, I realize that I haven’t had a problem so far with the photopolymer clear stamps, just the acrylic ones.  And I’m curious now to try the “better quality acrylic” stamps, like the Martha Stewart ones I have picked up, to see if they less troublesome than other acrylic brands.

Stamping Surface and pressure:

  • Many users recommend using a mousepad, a pad of papers, or some other cushioning under the paper for a good impression.
  • Make a test stamp on scrap paper, and try different paper types as well if image quality is a problem.
  • Be careful not to use too much pressure, as some clear stamps, especially smaller designs, can be squished out of shape causing a blurred impression.  I have seen this problem on some small snowflakes that I have!
  • There are some acrylic blocks that have foam feet that are meant to both give cushion and even pressure, although they seem like they would be annoying to ink to me!

Inks:

  • Of course, everyone has different favorite brands.  But it seems that the acrylic stamps do better with types that are pigment-based, or water-resistant “archival” inks.
  • Dye-based (e.g., Distress inks) tend to bead up on the surface of clear acrylic stamps, giving a poor impression.  I have certainly experienced this, as most of the ink colors that I have are dye-based.  I never realized there was so much variation in ink types!
  • Solvent-based inks (e.g., StazOn) are supposed to lead to deterioration of clear stamps, although I’m not sure if this includes acrylic as well as photo-polymer stamps.  It make sense to my mind that solvents would be bad on photopolymer, as I think it’s more chemically fragile.  I would be surprised if the acrylic stamps were as susceptible to damage from solvent-based inks.
  • A lot of people in forums specifically mentioned having good luck with Colorbox Chalks on clear acrylic stamps.  Although both Colorbox and Colorbox Chalks are pigment-based, the Colorbox Chalks are considered quick-drying while regular Colorbox have glycerin-extended drying times to make them better for embossing.  I suspect the glycerin would cause beading up just like water-based dye pads.

Cleaning the Stamp:

  • The manufacturing process may leave residues on the acrylic stamp.  Supposedly this is not an issue with photopolymer.  Washing clear stamps with mild soap and warm water may help and certainly won’t hurt.
  • After reading this tip, I used a strong light and looked at some of the stamps that I hadn’t used yet (and had never cleaned).  I noticed that the unused acrylic stamps did seem to have a bit of slightly yellowish residue on the surface.  Cleaning the stamps well did seem to help the impressions a bit, but alone did not seem to be enough to get a perfect image.
  • Beware of lint.
  • Avoid using solvent-based cleaners and cleaners meant for removing solvent-based inks, as these may lead to deterioration of clear stamps.

The Stamp’s Surface (*WARNING: none of these tips are universally recommended, use extreme caution because these methods may ruin the stamp):

I am providing these tips, with warnings, because sometimes it’s better to use a potentially tool-destructive method than not be able to use a tool at all.  I am optimistic that these won’t be necessary if some of the other methods are employed first.

  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Some users recommend scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with a pink or white eraser.  More recommended the pink.
    • UPDATE:  I have discovered that Bo Bunny Stamps recommend on their packaging to rub their stamps with a pink eraser before each use for better inking.  So maybe this is not such a dangerous idea after all.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*: Even more scary, some users had success scuffing the surface of the acrylic stamp with very fine sandpaper!  I would say this should be a last resort.
  • SEE ABOVE WARNING*:  Some users had positive results by inking the stamp first in an archival or solvent-based, letting it dry, and then inking in the desired manner.  As an added step, some of these users recommend never cleaning off that initial layer of ink.  Again, not recommended because of the risk of the stamp chemically deteriorating over time.

Stamps Losing their Adhesion to the Acrylic Block:

  • Double stick tape, or Aleene’s Tack it Over & Over will get the job done.

So that’s what I’ve learned over the past few days!  I’ll try some of these methods out over the next several days as I finish up my holiday card-making.  I have to say it’s a little frustrating to find that these acrylic stamps are so fiddly, since I have a few of them around.  Hopefully, I will get a good solution worked out.

Until next time, keep those fingers inky…

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The Versatile Duplicate Stitch

Each swatch seems to be taking me forever, because there seems to be so much to look up for each one.  I’m questioning every basic thing, trying to find out if there’s a better way or ways to do it.  I’ve been reading a lot of those “On your way to the Master’s” articles, they are wonderfully helpful, and often their bibliographies point me to other good resources.

How to get the tension on the edges of a piece correct?  -It turns out that when you end a row, the last stitch always seems kind of loose.  The solution is not Continue reading

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Flawed purls

I picked up some of the knitting reference books I ordered from the library this weekend.  I had half of a shelving cart to myself, I had so many books come in at once.  I eagerly started rifling through the most famous ones (the Montse Stanley and June Hiatt books) as Steve drove us to the next errand.  Within minutes my stomach was sinking through the floor.  I have been twisting my purls all along.

I have been twisting my purls for the last 9 years.  I have been twisting my purls for over 60 knitted projects.  How have I never noticed?

The raised edge on the sides of the "v's" are because of the twisted purls

The raised edge on the sides of the "v's" are because of the twisted purls

Continue reading

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One down, fifteen and a hat to go

I have finished knitting Swatch #1.  The ribbing section has a little distortion on some of the stitches, but I’m thinking (hoping) it is minor enough to block out.

TKGA Level I, Swatch #1

TKGA Level I, Swatch #1

I haven’t yet woven in my yarn tails, as I wanted to first read up on the duplicate stitch method of hiding tails which seems to be the preferred method of the TKGA.  Their “On your way to the Master’s” articles are incredibly helpful.  I never really bothered to figure out what I should really do with yarn tails.  I would just take up the darning needle and poke it around a few times on the back of the work until “secure” (“secure” is the universal euphemism all patterns seem to use for what to do with the tail).

Now I have read TKGA/Cast-On’s  “What to do with those pesky yarn tails” article, and I feel so much smarter about finishing!  They had great pictures too where they wove in tails with a contrasting color of yarn so you could really see where the yarn goes and how well it is hidden on the right side.  It turns out to that a carry-and-catch-behind method for hiding yarn tails is acceptable in complicated colorwork (ie. Kaffe Fassett), which is funny, because I thought I had made that method up as a lazy way to “secure” the cast-on ends so I wouldn’t have to go back.  I believe they call it “spontaneous diffusion” when the same idea occurs to multiple people in multiple places without exposure to one another.

I ordered some more yarn that I believe (having researched Ravelry extensively), should be sufficient yarn to get through all of the Level I and Level II swatches and projects.  So here’s the current cost tally: Continue reading

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How much I don’t know

Having read through all of the requirements of the Master Knitter program Level 1, I now know how much I don’t know.

I really don’t think I’ll be able to get a single one of the swatches done without at least a little research.  This is good, mind you, I’m happy to know this will be a fully rigorous academic as well as craft exercise.  But it sure is making me feel like I don’t know anything!

For example, although I know a couple of ways to increase and decrease, I don’t know what ways will be unobtrusive in ribbing.  Therefore, I can’t even get through swatches 1 and 2 without research.  For swatch 3, I know two different stitches that are sometimes called “seed stitch”, I’m assuming they mean the American one, but I can’t remember which of the two that I know is the American one.  I don’t know what “Blended” vs. “Full Fashioned” decreases means.  I don’t know if my cables have even tension on either side, but I think I’m guilty of some distorted crossing stitches.  And just last night, my newly technique-focused eye realized that the 1×1 ribbing that I’m working on a gift hat has distorted stockinette ribs on one side… and I don’t know why! Continue reading