Thursday, November 5, 2009

Finally - info about the blanket

My big project is a Star Wars blanket for my son.

I was given the following requirements:
  • Must be blue
  • Must be big
  • Must have Yoda
  • Must have General Grievous
  • Must have light sabers
So, I got to searching online and I found a couple of great "chart" patterns for knitting star war characters into sweaters or blocks ... and decided that maybe, just maybe I could make blocks like you would see in a quilt out of knitting - attach them together with a star wars logo... and voila - a star wars blanket.

I used almost every single chart found here

And I adopted a couple of these, plus all the text charts from here

So, I started off thinking that I would make every block a "patterned" block. But when I did the math and realized that there would be 35 blocks to make a blanket the size of a single bed... I figured maybe I didn't want to make that many with patterns. So, about one-third would be plain dark blue, another third would be a varigated blue; and the final third would be patterned. A couple would have the logo "Star Wars"; and original thought was that I would have a second set of blocks in the middle with "May the force be with you". But, then someone - darn them anyway... as it's a great idea; came up with the brilliant idea that I could add those words all the way around the border. What a brilliant idea... so of course, I'm going to do that even though it means its going to take that much longer to finish.

Next step was thinking about connecting the blocks and pulling together a look. I certainly had the option of joining the blocks with the mattress stitch which is virtually invisible, but I got to thinking that I really wanted a border on all the blocks. To figure it out.... I created an Excel spreadsheet. Made 1/3 of the blocks look dark blue; another 1/3 of the blocks look like a speckled blue; and the last 1/3 I used colored letters that were an acronym to represent what the square might be (SS meant space ship, DS meant death start, etc). Since some of the blocks that would be characters needed different backgrounds, i.e., Darth Vador would look best on a white background, but a white R2D2 wouldn't... so I changed the cell color to the color background that I thought would work best. By the time I had about half of the patterned blocks finished I found a light blue that might have worked as a universal background instead - sigh.... but it was a bit too late... so I just used it on some blocks.

So, I tried adding a border on the blocks in Excel and a copy of the same spreadsheet without borders - and I liked the borders better. I used this to experiment with placing and figuring out exactly what I wanted to place where - which when it comes down to putting the blanket together I probably won't stick to. I figure I'll lay it all out on the bed and change my mind a million times before I actually stick them all together... but at least I had a plan and a design that I liked.

And yes, we added a bigger, thicker border around the whole blanket so I can add the words "May the force be with you" all around the edge...

My original plan was that the back of the blanket would be visible - every knit or crochet blanket/afghan that I have ever seen - you see the front and the back. So, using lots of different colored yarns to make a pattern that looks good on the front, requires a lot of effort on the back to try to "hide" and sew in the ends of the yarns when you add or stop the color. I spent probably three times longer working in the ends of the yarns than actually knitting the blocks.... each time. I made a rule for myself that I couldn't start the next block until I weaved in all the ends of the block before -- the key to this rule is that I knew myself well enough to know that I don't really like to weave in ends... and weaving them all in at the end, well, I would reach a point where I wouldn't want to and I would put the whole thing in a pile and ignore it for dozens of years. It probably would never get finished. So, anyway - it wasn't until I was about 90% done with the blocks before I decided that even though I had been extremely careful, the back of the blocks still didn't look very attractive, and that I really, really wanted to hide them. Knitting a second blanket would be the more traditional method of backing this... but a) WAY TOO MUCH WORK and b) it would end up being a really heavy blanket. So, instead, I went shopping online and found the perfect no-fuzz fleece that is super-super-soft... and it's dark blue with stars... perfect for the back of a Star Wars blanket... perfect.

If you were to follow the links, one thing you would find is that there a) isn't a Yoda pattern, and b) isn't a General Grievous pattern. Sigh. The TWO he insists have to be on the blanket. So, I studied and read and figured out that there is a fairly easy way to create a pattern in Excel from a picture. Hmmm.... lots of pictures out there.... I could certainly try. Let me just say, as easy as it is to do this? It does require an artistic eye that I struggle to find within myself. My first Yoda block was made with a picture that was as close as I could find to a full-front face picture.... translating it into a few colors in fairly large weighted yarn in fairly "blocky" shape? Well, lets just say - it was a bit malformed Yoda that I finished with. That block got thrown out and I went back to the drawing board. I just couldn't find a picture that would be "straight-on" and would show both sides of the face as the same size. So.... I went back to my original pattern and "mirrored" one side of the pattern to the other. Knit it up again. This time, it was a bit closer, and at least he wasn't mal-formed, however? He wasn't Yoda either.... it certainly was a green face, but the ears were to big and his face was too small... he looked like a really sick cat....LOL. Third time was the charm though... I went back to the second pattern and made his cheeks fuller, moved his eyes down a bit, and added grey wrinkles to his forehead for more detail. Still not 100% sure he looks like Yoda, but when you put him next to other Star Wars blocks, he's pretty close.

Trying to make a General Grievious was another big challenge. This time I only needed to knit up two of them. One of the issues is that General Grievious being mostly robot has lots of parts and things that frame his face... yet 3 dimensions in fairly large guage just isn't going to happen. So, I cheated a bit - I did his face mask with nothing else around it. It turned out great the first time - BUT for the fact that the block I made was for some reason over an inch wider than every other block in the blanket. sigh.... It seemed "off" when I was knitting it, but instead of paying close attention and fixing it right away, I didn't really check it until I was doing some of the finishing touches pre-sewing them together before I realized that it stunk and needed to be redone.

Another block I had issues with was the light sabers. The patterns in the links had light sabers, however, they were a LOT smaller than what I was looking to make. Again, Excel to the rescue... I drew up a pattern in Excel which was a breeze this time around. I knit it up, but I didn't really like the yarn I had used -- it was a bit "blah" and light sabers glow.... they are NOT blah. So, I bought more yarn and I tried to "duplicate stitch" over the top of the existing stitches with the new brighter yarn. To do a duplicate stitch, you use a darning needle to put basically a second layer of stitches over the top. It makes it a bit thicker, but I figured that it wouldn't be that big a deal since light sabers could be 3 dimensional then. But it looked horrible when it was done. So, then I tried re-knitting them a second time with the newer yarn and STILL didn't like them. So, then I decided that I had to experiment a bit to figure out the right course of action. I took the small pattern again and did four or five light sabers in a small piece of knitting and tried using different yarns and methods for adding the color to the light sabers. I finally settled on two colors and using shiny yarns.... it's still not "perfect" and it still isn't as nice as I would like - but geeze.... creating light sabers in yarn isn't going to be realistic. So, I picked the style I liked the best out of the experiments and did the blocks that way. I should have done them with a fuzzy yarn that had a "halo" but fuzzy light sabers would just be silly. But, I had actually planned to do five different blocks with light sabers.... but since I didn't like the way they turned out, I had to come up with more patterns instead to replace them instead of having five blocks I didn't like.

Once all the blocks were finished, I need to sew them together. But the nature of the game is that they don't quite lay flat, aren't perfectly square, etc.... so before I try to put them into the blanket, I needed to "block" them. To block knitting - you have to dampen it, pin them to a flat surface and leave them to dry for several days. You can help "square" them up, you can stretch them a bit or straighten them out and you can smooth out some of the puckers that make them not want to lay flat. It won't fix everything (like a square over an inch wider than the others) but it does fix many of the smaller issues. But, I live in a two bedroom apartment with a six year old, a dog, and a cat. There isn't a free surface around that I could use for three days that wouldn't become a cat hair magnet. So, my project went on hold for a while, so I could purchase a blocking board that was portable, able to be leaned against a wall, and affordable. Yep... I went shopping. Guess what? If I could find something that was big enough, portable enough, it wasn't affordable. Affordable wasn't portable or storable or able to be leaned against a wall... hmmm.... so.... I got creative. I decided to make my own. First I needed a) affordable b) rigid and c) size-able stiff boards that d) could be pinned to, e) could tolerate dampness and still be f) light weight. So, I found two foot by four foot 1/4 inch plywood panels. I sanded them and varnished them (to protect against the dampness); then I glued 1/4 inch cork tiles to the front of the boards.... AND then I added to the back of them removable-pin hinges. I didn't really need hinges, but what I wanted to be able to do was join the two boards together edge-to-edge and remove the join easily. By using two sets of hinges, I can join them lengthwise - which would make one board two foot by eight foot; or widthwise - which would make a four foot by four foot board, or leave them individually. Now I had all of my initial requirements.... but there was one more. I needed to be able to have a grid on them that would allow me to pin things out to specific measurements. hmmm.... I did find somewhere where they had a ruler-style fabric but it cost more than all my other pieces together.... so I had decided that I would probably use a sharpie marker to try to draw lines on the cork tiles to grid them out.... but since I can barely make a straight line, I wasn't sure it was a great idea. After I got the cork tiles glued to the board, I realized that I was at risk for having child/puppy/cat damage to the exposed cork AND that it would flake a little off ever-so-slightly, enough to make a mess anyway. So, I decided I really should cover it with a fabric.... went shopping, and sure enough - found some awesome gingham that had one-inch black and white squares. Perfect size to help me pin out and measure things. My biggest issue making these is that whenever I went shopping for items, like the cork or the fabric... I would keep thinking I was making them two by three feet... and would have to make two trips for everything. But, I think they turned out fantastic... and I am finally blocking my blocks which is the last step before sewing them together.

Post-blocking, I plan on using crochet to join all the squares into the final blanket, where I can measure the final measurements as the step to make sure when I make the borders that they'll fit. I'm planning on making them using the afghan hook and a simple afghan stitch. Problem is I'll need miles of it and it'll be plain blue. So, it will be excruciatingly boring. Sigh.... I'm chosing that method for the borders because I'm going to add words to it - and it makes an almost perfect background for cross-stitching; and it will lay flat and not need yet a second form of a border to finish it off. No sense doing two borders for double the work if I don't need to. Then, I get to attach the borders... then I get to back the entire blanket with the fleece. My plan is to whip-stitch the edges together and then do the quilting-style ties at the corner of every block through both layers of material with yarn. We'll see ... but I have really high hopes for this big challenge.

Next come pics and files. I captured some of my preliminary drawings and ideas... my Excel files and the blocks I designed as well as photos of the blocks during blocking. My goal is to be finished by Christmas... which really wasn't very practical at all. So, instead I thought I'd start on it right after Christmas.... during the week I was off of work. ONLY... during that week, I was reading online about Ravelympics, a knitting challenge to start and complete a project during the Olympics. Since I'd started this long before the Olympics... it didn't qualify for the blanket competitioin... HOWEVER, it fit perfectly in the WIPS Dancing event - which is finishing off a work in progress. SO.... that's how this got finished (finally) on the final day of Olympic Competition for the 2010 Winter Olympics.