Tuesday, January 23, 2007

Monkeys off and almost off my back

The Monkey socks are complete:

The sock on the right has been washed, the other has not. They soften a lot after washing, and seem less bulky.

I like 'em.

Master Knitting Level 1 Program progress
  • All questions answered, with references.
  • Color swatch needs ends woven in
  • Single cable cross swatch needs one more try to even out the right side stockinette edge, unless I can find one in the ziploc bags full of swatches that is acceptable.
  • Cable of my choice: Still trying to decide between the Chain Link Cable, from A Taste of Aran Afghan, designed by Janet Szabo and the cable pattern called #115 from The New Knitting Stitch Library, by Lesley Stanfield. Whichever one I pick needs at least one more try to get the right stockinette edge looking better.
  • Need to do a bit more research on blocking non-wool fibers, as I don't have much experience in that area.
  • The hat is finished!
Cover Letter
  • Finished and signed. I dated it Jan. 29, so my goal is to have it in the mail a week from today.

Sunday, January 21, 2007


The only thing cuter than a baby's hat is a hat for a low-birthweight baby. This hat is going to Caps to the Capital in the name of my friend Helen Brenna. I made Helen a pair of Pomatomus socks last year and this year I'm asking recipients of my handiwork to pick a charity item for me to knit in their name.

Yarn: Leftover Cascade 220 Quatro; less than an ounce
Needles: Knit Picks Options, US 8/5.0 mm and US 10/6.0mm using Magic Loop technique
Pattern: Save the Children's free pattern from their Caps to the Capital Action Kit. I knit this one in the round instead of flat, because I don't see the point of knitting a hat flat. Plus, for some reason, I have no 6.0mm straight needles.

In sock knitting news, I started the toe decreases on the second Monkey sock last night, but my eyes were rolling up in my head so I put them aside. I'll finish those this afternoon.

Master Knitting: Still working on the cable swatches, but they're getting better. I think what happened was that after I finally perfected my flat knitting tension last summer, I knit almost exclusively in the round, and my body forgot what it had learned.

I have a checklist for what is left to be done for the question/answers and I'm plowing through that list. Most of what I have to do is find references to back up my answers. There are a few questions where I actually had to look things up to answer them properly, but mostly my problem is finding references for some of the answers. For example, I have a very easy, straight-forward method for calculating multiple increases across a single row. Most of the time I can do it in my head. I had never looked up how to do this (never even occured to me), because it's basic arithmetic. I could find only one book that used my method, and that was Montse Stanley's Knitter's Handbook. Montse Stanley was a very sensible woman. The rest of the books have worksheets and multi-step calculations that give the same result, but are so complicated it's a miracle anyone can follow them. I certainly can't.

Monday, January 15, 2007

Oh, yeah, it was because I was going INSANE...

I ordered TKGA's Master Knitting Level 1 program about a year and a half ago. I worked long and hard on it the first few weeks to a month after I received the instructions, until I went over to the dark side and started feeling about my knitting the way I was feeling about my writing. I sucked, and the joy of the creative process had sucked itself out of my psyche. So I put it aside for a while and returned to knitting for pleasure. I still persued learning new techniques and worked on improving my results, but I focused on the pleasure I got from knitting for myself and others rather than picking apart . I wanted it to be fun. I needed it to be fun, so I could then translate that feeling to the creative writing process.

Months passed. I picked it up again, working to perfect stocking stitch, which I hadn't known was a problem before the MK Level 1 came along. I re-knit swatches, and saw that my technique actually had improved. I still rowed out at one end of my stocking stitch swatches, but my ribbing had improved vastly due to the Norwegian purl.

Eventually, enough time passed (a full year) that I needed to get updates to the instructions. They had been overhauled in a big way, and I liked them. So I decided to reknit most of my swatches using the new instructions. Finally, FINALLY, in August I somehow was able to get my stocking stitch perfect. But the instructions for the cable swatches mentioned something about "balancing" the pattern vertically, which I hadn't done. I had simply knit to the required length and cast off.

Based on what the new directions say, what I need to do at the top is add a couple more rows, so I have those two rows of purl stitches I have at the bottom of the swatch. No problem, right?

So I cast on, and suddenly, the right side of the public side of my cable swatches were total crap. The loose stitch on the left end of knit stitches followed by purl stitches were enormous. What the hell happened? I moved on to something else...I knit up the new hat project that is part of the Level 1 modifications and screwed up the gauge (see previous blog entries). I hit my frustration limit and put it aside. Again.

So the new year rolls around and I have a couple projects I want off my back. The MK Level 1 program is one of them. I cast on for the hat, and everything goes swimmingly. I finish it, block it and I'm pleased with it. Time to look over the rest of my work. Yesterday, I read over my answers to the questions and made sure I said what I wanted to say, and that I had all the appropriate references listed. Then last night, I cast on for Swatch 15, which is a cable swatch of my choice. Like I said, it looked fine before, it just wasn't perfectly balanced.


Here's what I ended up with last night:

It's complete crap. Aside from the fact that this hasn't been blocked, the second repeat is short two rows in each vertical half -- which is a stupid mistake, easily corrected -- and I knit one too many rows at the top (again, easily corrected)...okay there are a lot of issues, but they're all bonehead mistakes I can fix. What I don't seem to be able to fix is the column of 2 knit stitches on the right. No other column of 2 knit stitches looks like this on the public side, nor on the private side.

I mean, look at this:

What confounds me is that if I knit an actual Aran garment or afghan, I don't have this problem, so I'm not clear what I'm doing wrong when I knit up these swatches. Again, and again, and again. I have tried knitting my favorite flat-knitting method, which is anchoring the needle at my hip and throwing with my right hand (this is how I knit the original swatch); I have tried knitting a combination of Continental, Norwegian, European untwisted, and English, I have tried that trick where you wrap the first purl stitch after a series of knit stitches in the opposite direction (which I never have to do when I knit an actual Aran prjoect), and all of these work sort of to solve part of the problem, but then another one pops up. Like I fixed the problem of the second knit stitch in looking all sloppy (doesn't happen on the purl side), but fixing it caused the end stitch to get REALLY awful.

What is clear to me, though, is why every few months I scream in frustration and put this @#$% project back on my shelf.

I will win this war. I will.

Saturday, January 13, 2007

Sombrero completado

My hat project for the Master Knitting Level I program is finished!

The hat is resting comfortably around a balloon, perched on a wide-mouthed tea cup.

Yarn: Cascade 220, in three colors, the numbers of which I have no idea
Needles: Knit Picks Options, with the cord for 30" needle; US sizes 6 and 8/4.0mm and 5.0mm
Pattern: The one supplied in the Master Knitting Level I instructions.

For the first hat I made, back in September (the one I knit at the wrong gauge), I attached the I-cord embellishment at the top of the hat. I didn't care for it, so for this hat I decided to Kitchener the top closed. Shelly mentioned to me a few months back that the reason for the I-cord/pom-pom/tassel is to hide the circle of fastened off stitches at the top, so why don't I just graft it closed? Never occured to me that would be okay. Perhaps it's considered a more advanced technique, so they didn't mention it. At any rate, I asked on the TKGA MK forum if that would be okay, and they said yes, and to just write a note about the technique I chose and why.

So, yay. I merrily knitted along last night and then came across the last line of decrease instructions, that stated the final number of remaining stitches: 11. Crap. I hadn't ever tried grafting an odd number of stitches, and I wasn't sure it was even possible. It may not be, but I did it some how, and it actually is a really interesting finish for this hat, the way the decreases spiral in and then connect. So I'm happy. It remains to be seen whether or not the MK committee will be happy.

Here is the top:

[Note: I wove in the ends of the Pretty Petals socks at the ice rink this morning! Only two items left on my nerves.]

Thursday, January 11, 2007

Master of my knitting domain

As part of my effort to be a Better Person in 2007, I want to clear out a few nagging projects. Those would be the ones labeled "On my nerves" in the sidebar.

There are three such projects.
1. The Not-so-pretty petals socks. I redid the toe that wasn't so hot. I cut the leg and ripped out the extra lace repeat and then regrafted the leg to the ankle. All I have to do is weave in the frigging ends. That's it. And yet they continue to swim at the bottom of my knitting bag.

2. The Samus cardigan. Still needs that zipper. One good afternoon is all it would take.

3. Finish my Master Knitting Level I course. I have most of the swatches done. Maybe all of them -- I can't remember. Most of the questions are done; a few need more refinement. I have to knit the hat project. I already knit it once, but I fooled myself into believing I had the right gauge with size 7 needles, even though I used size 8 needles with the same yarn for all my swatches in order to achieve the required gauge. I fooled myself because I tend to believe I "always knit to gauge." The pattern called for US 7 needles, so that's what I used. I checked my gauge while I knit. Several times. And each time I stretched and cajoled the knitting into looking like it was the right gauge. It is not. I think I could finish this baby up in about a week's worth of time, a couple hours a day.

If I can get those monkeys off my back, I'll be able to get back to my Monkey Socks guilt free.

What are the chances that'll happen?

I'm gonna dare me to do it. Just watch me.

Tuesday, January 09, 2007

Monkeying around

After the longest winter break on record (almost 3 weeks), the girls are back at school. I couldn't be happier. I need a routine again. A routine that doesn't include quite so much television and Wii in the background. A routine that puts the kids in bed at 9:30, instead of midnight (or later!)

So here's what I've been doing the past few days:

Cookie A's Monkey Sock
I'm using Cherry Tree Hill yarn, which reminds me of Koigu, only slightly different. Monkey is an easy pattern to memorize, and fairly quick to work up. I started the second sock last night, so this time next week I should have another pair of socks.

Here's what came in the mail Monday:

The yellow is okay. The brown, not so much. These are supposed to be the solid background and coordinating color for my Rainbow diamond argyle socks. I thought I had ordered a medium gray, not brown. I showed the website picture where I ordered the yarn to the girls and they both said it looked gray on the screen. Not to me. It would help if the color had an actual name, instead of just a number. Which, apparently, it does, on the German-language sites. "Choco brun." It would also help if I didn't have certain "color vision deficiencies." So now I have an ugly brown skein of yarn I will never want to knit into anything. Because it's ugly. Gah.

I also got this in the mail:

(the one on the right)

so that I will have enough to complete this:

It's a different dye lot, of course, than the first skein, but I figure since I'm working with doubled strands, I can switch to working with one strand of each, and then when I run out of the first ball, I'll work two strands of the new one and, with luck, the color change won't be noticeable. This is the "My so called scarf" pattern, which is simple to work, but nearly impossible to fix when you make an error. This isn't a color I wear, but it is a color my sister-in-law wears, quite a lot, and she's taken to wearing a lot of scarf-like accessories this winter to help disguise a surgical scar on her neck. As I look at the calendar, I realize her birthday is Friday. Friday! Crap, I've got to get busy....

Wednesday, January 03, 2007

Seven day socks

Six skeins of new sock yarn in one week weren't enough, it seems. I have decided to turn that Opal Rainbow yarn into argyle socks (using it for the solid diamonds), so I wanted the perfect complementary yarn for the background (a sort of medium grey) and the perfect contrast color for the diamond lines (in a bright yellow). So I ordered more yarn. From England. Because, you know, you can't get it over here.

Buy, hey, I did finish this pair of socks, and in 7 days. Rarely have I had that sort of single-minded fortitude in my knitting. Or time.

The Austerman Step socks mit Aloe Vera (I love saying, "mit Aloe vera"; I think it has to do with our extended-family trip to Italy when my mother-in-law was perusing a multi-language menu at a restaurant and somehow glommed on to the German column and ordered, "Schpaghetti mit tomahto." She kept telling people, "No sprechen der Deutsch.")

I'm pretty sure one pair of socks a week isn't going to do much to put a dent in my growing pile of sock yarn. My co-dependent knitting group is doing nothing to help me curb my sock yarn purchasing. It's like going to a bar for an AA meeting. "My name is Roxanne and I'm an alcoholic." "Hey, Rox, you can get the best and biggest Margaritas on the corner of Hamline and Thomas. They have a whole wall of different kinds of tequila!" Clearly, there is a reason why I don't ask my husband if he thinks I should buy more sock yarn. Sigh. I have a feeling I'll be sucked into the sock vortex known as Borealis some time in the next few days.

Besides tons of knitting time, the other thing I've had time for is movies, mostly of the romantic comedy variety, which will always be my favorite. This is a good sign for me, the alleged writer. The whole world of story evaporated completely from my brain a couple years ago. I stopped reading much, stopped writing, stopped watching movies. Knitting has filled some of the creative void, but in a different way than writing. Knitting is all about pleasing myself and having fun creating, something else that had been lost for me with my writing. It's a therapeutic sort of creating. Knitting also requires only certain parts of my brain at certain times. And it doesn't require opening a vein and bleeding onto the page.

Writing, on the other hand, uses the entire brain -- the creative, right side and the verbal left side. Character relationships, theme, motif, all that pattern-related, big-picture stuff comes from the right side; plot comes from the linear/sequential left side.

And then there's voice, the most important asset a writer has, and the asset that can't be taught.

Not writing has had as much to do with losing my writing voice as losing interest in story. Not feeling like me inside meant I couldn't express myself through my writing. Faking your voice is like faking your personality. You can do it, but everyone will know, and you won't be happy with yourself. These past six to seven months have been a gradual rediscovery of my voice in a non-threatening way. No pressure to produce for an audience (because, let's face it -- very few people read this blog, and the few who do are interested in the knitting), and certainly no pressure to survive a critique. For a while I was setting myself up for destroying my love of knitting via the Master Knitting program, but I stepped back from that and have worked on it only when I've been sure that I can handle being imperfect.

So. Knitting.

I started a new pair last night (Cookie A's Monkey socks) after swatching while Sophia had her skating lesson. The yarn is Cherry Tree Hill (I think. The label was separated from the yarn, so I'm not 100% sure. A look at their website leads me to believe the colorway is Country Garden) We've been spending a lot of time at the rink, lately. Sophia is preparing for her skating test Saturday. She's past the early, group lesson-type levels and is in "Freestyle 1" (there are 10 Freestyle levels). It's the first level where part of the test is a program set to music. Pretty exciting. She has a couple different spins and a couple half-jumps (a waltz jump and a half-flip) and gets to use the entire rink. If she passes, she'll compete as a solo performer in early March. Very exciting.

I have to go now, so I can try very hard not to think about buying more sock yarn. I wonder what time Borealis opens?