Sunday, October 5, 2008

DIY Typing Pad

(The craft-averse should look away now, perhaps at Olivander's relaunched photo gallery. Feel free to pretend that I'm saying something pithy and observational about the unfortunate collapse of typewriter beauty and the rise of the featureless smooth laptop.)

How to Knit a Typing Pad (I hope)

You need:

* the ability to knit, or pay someone who can
* needles of sufficient size
* a quantity of feltable wool
* a means for felting said wool
* old towels or jeans
* mild washing soap (soak flakes, or a wool wash like Eucalan)
* time, time, time (optional)

This is my first go at making a felted or "fulled" piece. I'm well-versed in the school of "knit a large rectangle" since I have made numerous baby blankets for co-workers' showers, including doubles for the two pairs of twins. I wanted to make this project felted, since the original style was done that way, and felting nicely covers up knitting mistakes, which I fully expect to make. My lovely wife has knit a number of felted items, so any advice related to the actual mechanics of felting is hers, just channeled through me.

Needles and wool:

For my pad, I'm using Lion Brand Fisherman's Wool in brown, mainly because it's cheap for the yardage and being brown, it will hide the stray hairs of my large black dog, which are absolutely everywhere. Needle size recommended is a U.S. 9, and for felted items you want the stiches to be loose and open, so go up a couple of sizes. I'm using U.S. 11 for mine, though I could go for bigger.


You must, must, must swatch here. I figured out that I wanted to make a 15" x 15" pad, because that's about the size of an SM9 case, plus a little fudge factor. With felting, it's easy to make a project go smaller, so plan bigger. Knit up a small swatch (mine was 16 sts x 18 rows), write down your stitches and rows, and measure it carefully. You'll need this later.


Supposedly the best way to do this is in a top-loading washing machine, since you really want the agitation cycle. Of course, we swapped ours out some time ago for a water-sipping front-loader, but it still works, just with more time. Take your swatch and toss it into a mesh bag or old pillowcase, taking care to close the opening securely (rubber band it shut.) Include some old towels in the load, or jeans that you don't mind shrinking, or in our case, the cheapo jean jacket that was a quarter at Goodwill and is now "the felting jacket."

Run the machine on its hottest wash cycle and coldest rinse, and wait. You want to catch the machine before it gets into a high spin, because "if it folds over when the machine is spinning, you're screwed." The heat and friction will conspire to give your little swatch a wicked beating, and make the fibers rub together and shrink. Mine took two wash cycles before I couldn't see light through the piece (my highly scientific test) and I thought it looked good. Lay flat on a towel and roll up to dry.

Math time:

Sorry. With your pre-felting swatch measurements at hand, measure the width and length of your new, teeny felted swatch. Figure out how many stitches-per-felted-inch and rows-per-felted-inch you knitted. Multiply these ratios by your target measurements to figure out how many stitches you'll be casting on, and how many rows you'll be knitting. These will be big, upsetting numbers. It's OK.

Pictures of real pads show them to be thick, so I'm planning on actually knitting mine twice as long, folding it over, and sewing the edges together before felting, so I'm doing:

CO 72 sts
K in sts 249 rows

This thing will look like a freaking blanket when I'm done, but that's OK! There will be a lot of shrinking in the wash. And exact measurements are not required: I just rounded up a bit. I can always felt it smaller, or just chop off the edges with a rotary cutter if it's really way crazy too big.

For the real wash, include the soap flakes/wool wash, mostly to keep everything from stinking of wet sheep. Check your project often, since it's easy to get the whole thing too small if you just left it go.

And that's the plan. If nothing else, this should keep my hands busy until November. Stay tuned for the occasional update.


Monda said...

Fabulous directions! I've made a couple of these and the secn d was MUCH better than the first. Why?

1. I knitted the yarn double-stranded, and

2. I "blocked" the piece very carefully to let it dry in a very nearly perfect rectangle.

I'm making one for sweet Alice this very day - an elegant ashes-of-roses colored pad made with hand spun Irish wool. Smells a little gamey right now, but I can fix that.

Alice deserves the best.

Mike Speegle said...

You, sir, are a renaissance man.

mpclemens said...

Monda, I considered double-stranding, but that would have meant dividing the yarn with my toddler "helping" me all the way. Is the double-strand result very bumpy? I'm hoping for a nice smooth surface (and yes, blocking will be involved.)

Mike, knitting is a surprisingly scientific craft form: all that fiddling around with measurements and materials and counting and such. Leonardo would have surely knit if he wasn't so darn busy being a genius and all.

Strikethru said...

You can't make me swatch. You can't make me!

Sewing and knitting are seriously math-intensive. And not easy to learn.

mpclemens said...

Not swatching will only end in tears, mark my words!

Seriously, felting is such a strange thing that you almost need to get that little square done first, just to see what happens. I'm still amazed every time I see it process work in my wife's projects. Pre-felted pieces look awful, but after a little hot water and churning, it comes out slick, and all your flubs are smoothed out. Much like revising a draft, in fact. Hrm.

Anyhow, it can't be too hard to do when a numble-fingered goof like me can do it, though I knit continental style because I got a serious brain-ache when my wife tired to teach me English knitting.

The math is more fun when you get to use something called a "Kacha Kacha"

Monda said...

Fisherman's yarn is some hefty stuff. You could probably go single-strand on #11s and be just fine if you make a double pad.

I'd try 13-15 double-stranded, k1 p1 for a thicker, smoother pad. They shrink like the devil, though.

And yes, you ARE a Renaissance Man, because knitting is some of the most complicated math anyone can wrap their heads around.